The huge news out of New York State's 23rd Congressional district is that moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava has endorsed Democrat Bill Owens after dropping out of the race. On the eve of Election Day, grassroots conservatives are already putting NY-23 in their victory column, but commentators say the race remains up for grabs. Who's really winning big in the North Country? Here are four smart takes.

  • Bill Owens, Quite Possibly Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight does the work of analyzing the district's voters and says there are far more moderates -- voters who are more ideologically similar to Owens and Scozzafava than Hoffman -- than many observers think. Silver says that while it's still "anybody's race," he's inclined to place his bet on the Democrat, because he says Scozzafava would have likely remained in the race if she thought it would help Owens and wanted him to win. "Indeed, I think Owens is probably in a better position than he was 48 hours ago," he writes. He breaks it down:
Scozzafava's remaining supporters were mostly registered Republicans, but they also had mostly positive views of Barack Obama, and negative views of both Owens and Hoffman. Yesterday, when it looked like Scozzafava was going to endorse Hoffman, I posited that 30 percent of her support would go to Hoffman, 20 percent to Owens, and the remaining 50 percent would either vote for Scozzafava anyway or would sit the election out. If we reverse those numbers in the wake of her endorsement of Owens, that would make the contest Owens 44, Hoffman 41, Scozzafava 5, extrapolating from the Siena poll issued late last week -- still, obviously, anybody's race.

[...]Obviously, the question I've posed is rhetorical. If Scozzafava wants Owens to win (or perhaps more accurately, wants Hoffman to lose), why would she have left the race unless she felt that the combined effect of her quitting and her endorsing Owens would be beneficial to him on balance?
  • Grassroots Conservatives At The National Review, Marco Rubio says the race is already a victory for conservatives, who've helped keep the Republican Party principled. Rubio, a conservative Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida, said the "developments in New York's 23rd Congressional District should send an encouraging message to conservatives everywhere. It is not only right and necessary to stand up for our principles, it is also an appealing strategy to Americans yearning for less government and more fiscal restraint in Washington." Michelle Malkin is harder on the Republican Party. She says the race made the GOP look like the inept organization it is. "Hey, how did that six-figure RNC donation to the NRCC plus $85,000 to the New York GOP plus nearly half-million-dollar investment in advertising and other independent expenditures on behalf of radical leftist Dede Scozzafava work out?" she asks.
  • Democrats In The New York Times, Frank Rich says the purging of moderates from the GOP is good news for Democrats, no matter who wins in NY-23. "No matter what the results in that race on Tuesday, the Republicans are the sure losers. This could be a gift that keeps on giving to the Democrats through 2010, and perhaps beyond." Rich says Republicans are positioning themselves to self-destruct:
The battle for upstate New York confirms just how swiftly the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama. The movement's undisputed leaders, Palin and Beck, neither of whom has what Palin once called the "actual responsibilities" of public office, would gladly see the Republican Party die on the cross of right-wing ideological purity. Over the short term, at least, their wish could come true.
  • The Conservative Machine E.J. Dionne says "grassroots" Republicans may be calling NY-23 a victory, but that establishment conservatives can claim just as much responsibility for the chaos in the New York race. Dionne doesn't think NY-23 is a local insurgency at all.
Hoffman's success in driving Scozzafava from the race is being played as a "grass-roots" conservative rebellion in the district against the imposition of a moderate Republican nominee by party leaders. But the truth is that it was national money (notably from the conservative Club for Growth) and national muscle (from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Sarah Palin, among others) that prevented Scozzafava from ever having a chance. Gingrich was being the true conservative here, arguing that local party people ought to be able to choose candidates in their own jurisdictions, even if national conservatives don't like how the locals choose. This is at least as much a victory for the inside-the-Beltway conservative machine as for grass roots conservatives.