Who says Rockefeller Republicans are dead?
In New York, the birthplace both of that strain of moderate conservatism and, one could argue, the Tea Party that grew out of a reaction to it, establishment figures won three hotly contested races Tuesday night.
In what was by far the most watched contest, Richard Hanna, a two-term congressman from the Utica area and one of the GOP’s most moderate members, appeared to barely eke out a victory against Claudia Tenney, a conservative state assemblywoman who assailed the incumbent for his liberal bent.
With more than 88 percent of precincts reporting, Hanna clung to a six-point lead.
The race attracted an unusual amount of outside interest, as Hanna was one of the first Republicans in Congress to support same-sex marriage, a stance Tenney made a primary point of her campaign.
Hanna received a record-breaking nearly $550,000 from American Unity PAC, a super PAC bankrolled by New York City hedge funder Paul Singer that backs candidates who support same-sex marriage. (Margaret Hoover, the wife of Daily Beast editor in chief John Avlon, is a member.)
Tenney, however, received the backing of prominent right-wing radio hosts such as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Michelle Malkin, who called her “Steel-spined and strong-willed.”
Tenney supporters had taken comfort in the surprising victory of little known economics professor David Brat over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last month, believing that Tea Partiers, after a difficult primary season, had begun get energized at last.
The Hanna victory comes as same-sex marriage is polling increasingly well, especially in New York and other liberal strongholds. However, supporters of gay marriage have been worried about how the issue will play in a Republican primary. After the New York state Senate passed same-sex marriage in 2011, just one of the four Republican senators who switched sides to back the measure won reelection the next year.
There is no Democrat on the November ballot to oppose Hanna
In the GOP primary in a neighboring district upstate, former Bush administration aide Elise Stefanik crushed Matt Doheny in a district that stretches from Saratoga Springs north to the Adirondack Mountains. That district has been credited by some as being the birthplace of the Tea Party; it was there that Doug Hoffman, a conservative businessman, mounted an outside challenge to a moderate Republican lawmaker for an open seat that should have been an easy victory for the GOP in 2009. Hoffman drove the moderate out of the race, handing the seat to the Democrats.
This time, Stefanik, 29, was the only Republican congressional candidate to receive substantial support from the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads. She also was backed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)—whom she helped prepare for his vice-presidential debates in 2012 against Joe Biden—and by Hoffman.
But Doheny, who has twice run for the seat and lost, had the support of many local Tea Party groups.
Stefanik will face Democrat Aaron Wolf, a documentary filmmaker, in the general election in a race Republicans see as a prime pickup opportunity after incumbent Democrat Bill Owens announced his retirement.
Republicans have also long had their eye on New York’s 1st District, which stretches from the eastern tip of Long Island to the mainland. There state Sen. Lee Zeldin, 34, was up over George Demos in the GOP primary 62 percent to 38 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
Zeldin had the backing of most of the Republican establishment and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Demos was making his third bid for the seat.
Zeldin will square off in the fall against incumbent Tim Bishop, who has long been one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable House members but has been able to carve out slim victories in five consecutive elections.