Little more than two weeks ago, reporters from New York's 23rd Congressional district predicted that the special election would probably go undecided for a while due to a high number of absentee and military ballots. It struck many observers as a surprise when Doug Hoffman, the Conservative party candidate who captured national attention by overtaking the Republican nominee in opinion polls, conceded defeat fairly early in the evening to the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens.
Yesterday, however, after Owens had been sworn in some time ago, Hoffman has changed his mind. He went on Glenn Beck's radio show to "unconcede" the election. In a related statement, he hints at an election stolen by that bogeyman of reactionaries, ACORN, with the help of the evil labor unions. He points to recounts that have lowered Owens's margin of victory to the point where absentee ballots could reverse the outcome. Apparently, people need to give him money to facilitate this process. With apologies to Hoffman's supporters, I can't help but wonder whether money is the prime motive for this unconcession.
In any event, I wouldn't stake a lot on those absentee ballots if I were Hoffman. Since many were most likely mailed well in advance of Election Day, it's quite possible that many of them will be votes for Dede Scozzafava, the controversial GOP nominee who only suspended her campaign on the last weekend before non-absentee voting. If anything, Scozzafava should have a larger percentage of absentee votes than she did live votes on Election Day, a probability that can only hurt Hoffman's last-ditch hopes.
However, Hoffman's may be a long-term strategy. He's expected to seek the Republican nomination next year, when there'll be an actual primary, as he did unsuccessfully this year, when the candidate was chosen by a committee of county leaders. Crying "fraud at the polls!" now is in his interest for next November. If we've learned anything so far in the 21st century, it's that stolen-election charges never go away. Just as some people will never accept the legitimacy of either of George W. Bush's elections, plenty of people in NY23 won't want to concede Owens's legitimacy, even if his victory is backed by the absentee ballots. The magic of ACORN for the reactionary imagination is that its existence throws any Democratic victory into question. You can assume that ACORN stole it no matter what the official facts are. The only risk of playing up the ACORN angle is that you might convince your more paranoid supporters that ACORN is so omnipotent and expert at its alleged business that there'd be no point to Republicans or reactionaries bothering to vote. Superstitious minds may transform scapegoats into devils and flee rather than fight. Perhaps Hoffman should be careful when he invokes such witchery, whether he means it or not.