Before we've all forgotten there was a wacky contest on Tuesday somewhere in the far northern reaches of New York State, I want to get in a few more thoughts. Until I read the following, I didn't have any very authentic picture of what might be going on in New York's 23rd Congressional District. But thanks to Booman who pointed to this from a local newspaper, I think I now have more notion of what may have given Democrat Bill Owens an unexpected victory over wingnut Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman.
That had echoes for me. You see, I worked politically in Vermont in 1970 before Vermont "went through" a political sea change. The state had lost its woolen mills (and their jobs) to the South; agriculture had always been marginal on granite hillsides; all the state seemed to have were gritty people, beautiful hills, and fall foliage. Politically, the state was "conservative" in a way that really meant depressed and anxious. Back then, Democrats were rare creatures in Vermont.
Since then, Vermont has changed enormously. It's still struggling economically, but, somehow combining out of state immigrants attracted by its beauty, a vigorous year-round tourist industry, and some knowledge work, it has pulled itself together. Now it is the most libertarian/liberal of the New England states, fielding a Socialist Senator (Bernie Sanders) and giving President Obama the highest percentage of his vote from white males of any state in the country (map here).
I have to wonder -- are parts of far northern New York going the way of nearby Vermont? Like Vermont, the area doesn't have an agricultural future; there's a limit to living on sugar maple tapping. And much of it (the bits by Lake Champlain and the St. Laurence river) is beautiful, attracting tourists and newcomers fleeing cities. It wouldn't be entirely shocking if the kind of transition that happened in Vermont is happening here -- and this unexpected election with all its noisy outsider interlopers just both covered and revealed a local process that was well underway.
In any case, if, as expected, New York State loses a Congressional district after the 2010 census, this particular district shape is not likely to endure much longer.
The number of divergent sorts of "independents" always makes campaign outreach to the margin-makers a difficult task.