Election 2010: Voters Choice
Read what two local Congressional candidates have to say about the issues — and preview three state races that will have an impact on the Valley
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Photograph by Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock
Tea Party supporters advocate less taxation and a scaled-down federal government. But whether their candidates can win in New York is not at all certain
Given the amount of media coverage Glenn Beck and the Tea Party faithful receive, you might get the impression they’ve been marching down the nation’s highways, adding millions to their ranks by the hour, poised to topple every Congressional office and state house in the continental United States.
It’s a little more nuanced than that, of course. The movement’s influence varies state by state, region by region.
So is it tea time in the Hudson Valley? Or is that whistling coming from the kitchen just Uncle Lou trying to entertain himself?
Locally, the Tea Party’s numbers — to the extent they can be determined — are relatively impressive. When the first tea parties were held in April 2009, approximately 4,000 people headed to Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, making it the 25th-largest of the thousands of events to be held that day nationwide. Carl Paladino — the highest-profile Tea Party candidate running for office in New York — carried every Valley county except Westchester in the Republican gubernatorial primary. (Results for Columbia County were not available at press time.) Other self-identified tea partiers, however — such as 19th District congressional candidate Neil DiCarlo — lost their races.
As the elections draw closer, groups such as the Hudson Valley Patriots and the Orange/Sullivan 912 Tea Party are organizing meetings with candidates and packing debate halls, though most groups stay away from official endorsements. Lisa Douglas, a mother of five from North Salem, founded the Patriots in October 2009 when she started a blog on the Hudson Valley Moms Web site. “I needed someone my age to talk to,” Douglas says. “It was pretty much a therapy session for me.”
Douglas now sends out a daily e-mail to about 2,250 people, including congressional candidate Nan Hayworth. She also publishes a newspaper, titled the Well-Informed Citizen, and distributes it to train stations in Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, Orange and Rockland counties. Dick Armey, a former congressman from Texas and one of the Tea Party’s most prominent voices, thought enough of the group to kick off his national book tour at a Patriots event.
Whatever the Tea Party’s influence within the Republican party, however, its power over the electorate is unclear. Gerald Benjamin, a SUNY New Paltz political science professor and the director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, doesn’t foresee a small-government platform succeeding in a general election. “New York is a pro-government state,” Benjamin says. “Republicans in New York say, ‘We can do things more efficiently.’ They’ve never successfully argued that less government is the goal.”
Questions about the long-term viability of the movement remain as well. When citizens are less worried about their money, they may be less worried about how the government spends it. “People, most of the time, don’t care what the government does or how it does it — as long as expectations are met,” Benjamin says.
Take a look at the county-by-county totals for Paladino, for example. He scored a whopping 74 percent of Republicans’ votes in Ulster County, the highest percentage of any county in the mid-Hudson Valley, according to unofficial primary results. While any number of factors might explain Paladino’s popularity in Ulster, it’s notable that a CRREO report on the region’s economic well-being rated Ulster’s economic viability at nearly 25 percent below the state average. In Dutchess County, where the economy rated slightly above the statewide average, Paladino garnered 60 percent of the vote, and in Orange, which hit the average on the nose, 54 percent.
It’s hard to say how much the economy weighed on Ulster voters’ minds, Benjamin says. But it’s possible their fervor over government spending will temper if the economy improves.
Douglas doesn’t see it that way. “The real job begins in November,” she says. “If we go back to sleep, things will go right back to the way they were.” Better make sure that next cup’s not decaf, then.