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As Long as We Remember...

October 5, 2006

GOP Split Provides Ray of Hope

Tony Soltero

The Republican Party, over the last 20 years or so, has been characterized by an uneasy coalition between its theocratic wing and its libertarian wing.

On the theocrats' side are individuals like Pat Robertson and James Dobson, whose deepest wish is to abolish the U.S. Constitution and replace it with the Christian-fundamentalist equivalent of Islamic sharia law. On the libertarian side are the Newt Gingriches of the world, who just basically want the government to have no role in the conduct of business in this country.

There's a natural tension between these two branches, of course, as the former aims to maximize government power over the individual, while the latter seeks to minimize it. But one must give them credit for holding it together for so long.

One wonders, though, if fissures are finally beginning to crack open in this partnership. The Republicans pandered to the theocrats during the Terri Schiavo melodrama, horrifying many traditional conservatives who valued the idea of the government staying out of private family decisions.

And the theocrats complain that the Republicans in Congress cast aside their interests once they get elected, as evidenced by Congress failing to do anything significant about their pet issues despite the Republicans firm control of both houses. To many fundamentalists, all of the social-issues talk is nothing but trumped-up lip service to pull their electoral support. (And with good reason - a strong majority of Americans isn't exactly eager for Christian fundamentalist sharia law at home, and soundly rejects it when it's too obvious in a candidate.)

We can see these divisions emerging in the race between Republican Alex Mooney and Democrat Candy Greenway in District 3A. Senator Mooney's support is heavily drawn from theocrats. They are certainly well-organized and have helped deliver him the district in the past.

But there are many Republicans who have expressed dissatisfaction with Sen. Mooney's theocratic sympathies, as well as his propensity for self-promotion at the expense of actually accomplishing anything for the district. And a surprising number of them are taking a long look at Ms. Greenway.

Given that Senator Mooney defeated Sue Hecht by 10 points in 2002 - a solid victory, but hardly a wipeout - one must conclude that Ms. Greenway has a real chance to make some noise.

There are other factors influencing this race. The year 2002 was a great one for Republicans nationwide, and Democrats got demolished everywhere. That's not likely to be the case in 2006.

Senator Mooney ran an exceptionally dirty and sleazy campaign, without much counterpunching from Ms. Hecht; Candy Greenway's filed that away and has been fighting back. And the tired old bogeymen routinely trotted out by Republican candidates this time of year - "Librul! Librul! Taxes!! Doom!" - simply don't resonate as well given the spectacular failures of conservatism nationwide over the last six years. At every level. Americans don't want our country to become an Indonesian-style kleptocracy. Voters are far more open to the idea of change these days.

And, of course, the Republican theocrats' insistence in defining "morality" strictly in terms of sexual behavior is going to prove a major liability for the party over the next month, given recent revelations in Congress.

If Candy Greenway wants to talk about traffic, housing, health care and education, and Alex Mooney wants to talk about what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms, who's going to get the moderates' vote? All the pontificating in the world over four-letter words on TV doesn't unclog I-270 any faster; and, as some say, there's often an inverse correlation between how moral a man is and how much he needs to inform you of it - as painfully evident in Congress.

Alex Mooney remains a formidable candidate. His war chest, buttressed by theocratic organizations across the county, is immense. He's wired into the Republican national network, for better and for worse (see Jack Abramoff). He enjoys the advantages of name recognition and incumbency. And he boasts a legion of boots on the ground to do his bidding.

But money isn't everything, and Senator Mooney's strong identification with the theocrats makes many moderate Republicans uncomfortable. He's also perceived to be shaky on the illegal immigration issue. If Candy Greenway can convince these moderate Republicans that she's a viable alternative - and she most certainly is - we might have ourselves an unexpected nailbiter a month from now.

The Republicans need both of their main branches to win elections. They've made it work very well over the last decade or so. But something's eventually got to give, and polarizing candidates like Alex Mooney will eventually hasten the inevitable breakup of the shaky marriage between the theocrats and the libertarians, even if it doesn't happen this year. But it might.

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