Yesterday, in a tiny northern corner of NewYork state, in a blood-red district six hours from Manhattan, a Democratic assemblyman walloped a Republican opponent in a hotly-contested race for a vacant state senate seat.
The race is of interest not least because it represents a Democratic takeover of one of the most staunchly Republican constituencies in the state--the district was last represented by a Democrat in the early (00s-early) 20th century. It also closes the Republican margin in the state senate--GOP-controlled since the 1960s--to a single vote. Scads of local Democratic money and big GOTV efforts from progressive state organizations like the Working Families Party went into this more-than-symbolic victory.
The real story, however, may be the political heterodoxy of both these candidates. Darrel Aubertine, sixth-generation Democrat (and dairy farmer) and yesterday's winner, holds a staunchly pro-life position on abortion. William Barclay, conversely, is a lifelong Republican with a whiff of the aristocratic about him, who nonetheless supports choice. Though electing Democratic candidates is the name of the game for liberals this election year, the Aubertine pill was hard to swallow for hardcore, upscale Democrats in New York City. A friend in local politics told me that the sense of trench warfare, especially among older voters for whom abortion rights are sacrosanct, made Aubertine seem "suspect."
If the New York 48th district race proves anything, it may be that Democratic party affiliation is finally being freed of an outdated litmus test on choice. Amy Sullivan probes this "god gap" willingly and thoughtfully in a new book and also in a series of op-eds she's been writing for Time and elsewhere. She details the massive failure of Democrats to reach out to people of faith basically since the 1980s, ceding valuable political ground and pigeonholing the party as one that "prized fealty to the pro-choice position over even party affiliation." (Bill Clinton was a one-man-band of religiosity, and the only exception to this rule.)
35 years out from Roe, it's a ways to go before choice recedes from prominence in the political discourse (with good reason). But it's nice to see the monkey off one politician's back. There are also hints of greater changes to come if Obama is the Democratic nominee, first broadcast here.