Owens Wins NY-23. Did Independents Make the Difference There, Too?

GOP sweep? Not exactly. In one of the few bright spots Tuesday night for Democrats, Bill Owens narrowly defeated Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York's closely watched 23rd Congressional District. With more than 90 percent of the precincts reporting, Owens led Hoffman, 49 percent to 45 percent. Dede Scozzafava, a Republican who dropped out of the race last weekend amid criticism from the party's right flank over her moderate positions on social issues and support for Barack Obama's stimulus bill, still finished with 6 percent of the vote. Although more than 5,000 absentee ballots were due to be counted, Hoffman conceded the race early Wednesday morning. But you'd better be prepared for déjà vu: Hoffman told reporters Tuesday that if he lost the race, he'd just mount another challenge in 2010—though this time he'll likely be the actual GOP candidate, instead of mounting a third-party bid.

What does it all mean? Democrats will no doubt point to the GOP's infighting in the race and Hoffman's subsequent loss as a sign that voters declined to endorse the party's more conservative views. But Republicans played down their loss by blaming the controversy over the party's nomination process, in which Scozzafava was chosen behind closed doors. "There is no doubt in my mind that the candidate selection process lacks openness and transparency and should be changed to a primary system so voters can have a say in who their respective parties nominate," Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement this morning.

Your Gaggler hasn't seen any exit polls for the race, but, we suspect, not unlike other races last night, that independents played a big role in Owens's victory. Heading into Election Day, Republicans were encouraged by that polls showed swing voters were moving heavily toward Hoffman. According to a Public Policy Polling survey released Sunday, Hoffman led Owens, 52 percent to 30 percent, among independents. But a Siena Research Institute poll released Monday found that Hoffman's lead among indies had vanished. According to the poll, Owens led Hoffman among unaffiliated voters, 43 percent to 37 percent. Did a last-minute swing among independents on Tuesday make the difference for Owens?