Ron Paul vs Mike Huckabee in the 8th District?
In the last few months, libertarian-leaning and Ron Paul supporter Amit Singh has joined the Republican primary to face off against entrenched incumbent and general embarrassment Rep. Jim Moran (D) in the 8th district. Singh joins Mark Ellmore in the primary, who ran and lost in the 2006 primary to Tim O’Donoghue. In just the last few days, this primary has exploded and clear-cut lines have been drawn between these two candidates. And in many ways, their respective candidacies mirror that of Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul in the presidential primaries.
I’ve met Ellmore on a few occasions, and I’ve been impressed with his commitment to the race and the campaign he’s run so far. I’ve only encountered Singh once, and admittedly did not know much about his background (he had just gotten into the race). I’d like the opportunity to hear from each of the candidates directly, whether through a print interview or statements if not in person, rather than through surrogates. However, there’s plenty of material from said surrogates to get a handle on the race.
In this article printed right after O’Donoghue won the ’06 primary, the Connection Newspapers describe Ellmore as a religious evangelical Christian who ran on a campaign of “compassionate” Republicanism. Or, as one other pol may put it, “I’m a conservative, but I’m not mean about it.” In the pre-Huckabee era, evangelicals got a bad rap, due to associations with its leadership. Hopefully now that has changed.
One of Ellmore’s greatest outreach programs (to both the community and the media) is the Save Larry campaign, focusing around assistance for a 105-year-old resident in assisted living. This has caused Ellmore to place on his website that he is dedicated to increase federal assistance for assisted-living communities. That is, putting the government to work to help those who cannot help themselves.
In the same article as above, it stated that Ellmore tried to reach out to constituencies that aren’t typically Republican, such as African-Americans and labor organizations. This mirrors the campaign of Mike Huckabee, a strong social conservative who nonetheless was successful at getting the minority vote in his statewide bids in Arkansas during the Clinton ’90s, and who made the centerpiece of his campaign providing a voice for lower-income and bluer-collar workers who often don’t feel as if they have a voice in the modern Republican Party.
Due to Ellmore’s prior bid and his long-running campaign, he is sort of the presumed front-runner for the nomination. Enter Amit Singh from stage right. Singh, inspired by Ron Paul’s insurgent candidacy, is running on a very similar platform: drastically reduce the size and scope of the federal government, untangle the U.S. from foreign involvement, and a hardline on illegal immigration. Singh’s supporters describe his candidacy as a “grassroots”-based, in support of a “movement” conservative running against the “establishment”. Those are pretty loaded words that are completely subjective to the speaker, but nonetheless that is how the race will ultimately be defined.
So who would be the best pick?
First, let’s establish what we all know, even if we all won’t say it: Jim Moran will be re-elected in 2008. As I posted this week, the 8th was drawn to have a Democratic Congressman. In a favorable year, we might be able to turn it into a sleeper race and sneak an upset. 2008 isn’t looking like a favorable year, and that’s even before we consider that the NRCC is virtually broke. That takes out a large consideration, electability, though both candidates will have to credibly argue that they can (potentially) win, and therefore can appeal to enough non-Republicans to win the general election.
To that end, who would be best suited? According to some sources, like the GMU College Republicans, describe Ellmore as a “moderate” compared to the “conservative godsend” that is Amit Singh. Others, like the Ron Paul blog where Singh’s assistant campaign manager announced his candidacy, describe Singh as the moderate and Ellmore is “far-right”. I’m more interested in calling a spade a spade. Ellmore is more of a moderate in the Mike Huckabee sense of strong social conservatism running on a platform of a distrust of government, not a dismantling of government. According to some, we do have an obligation to those who can’t help themselves, which is where programs like Save Larry and expanded assistance to assisted-living centers comes into play. Singh is more of a libertarian, who appeals to Independents and Democrats with his anti-war stance and his anti-status quo approach to Republican politics. Both have aspects that appeal to non-Republicans, for vastly different reasons.
While the 8th district is far from a microcosm of the country, let’s look at national politics for a second. Mike Huckabee was successful in building a crossover coalition in a state that votes Democratic on the state level, then proceeded to perform well in Republican primaries in Iowa, South Carolina, and Southern states on Super Tuesday. Ron Paul, while constantly and unfairly dismissed as a fringe candidate by the media, was nonetheless able to achieve a broad level of grassroots support, specifically financially, though he was not able to turn that into actual votes in primary or caucus states. It’s not fair to judge Ellmore vs Singh by looking at Huckabee and Paul’s relative successes this cycle, but the arguments of Singh’s supporters that he will ride a “movement” to victory in November just like Ron Paul should read that sentence again.
Since a Republican victory is virtually guaranteed to not come in November, then the nomination sends a very important message about where our party is going, at least in the 8th District. That, I suspect, will be the argument we hear a lot during this primary. Singh supporters will say that Ellmore is a Democrat-lite who compromises conservative positions to the point of ineffectiveness, and thus nominating Ellmore is a step backwards for conservative principles. It was an unfair attack when Fred Thompson used it against Mike Huckabee, and it remains unfair now. We can have a healthy debate about the proper role of government, about the social obligation to the less-fortunate among us, and about what is truly the most “conservative” approach, but accusing your opponent of being spineless for political expediency for something he legitimately believes crosses a line that belies such a debate. There’s no reason to suspect that Ellmore isn’t sincere in his compassion, for example, for those living in assisted-living centers.
Which brings us to my biggest problem with Amit Singh: I respect the role that contrarians play in the public discourse, but you can’t be a contrarian and a standard-bearer at the same time. Earlier this week, Singh’s supporters labeled Congressmen Tom Davis and Frank Wolf as “crap”. As an incredible admirer of those two men in particular, I take offense to the suggestion that they are supported by Republicans simply because they have an (R) next to their name. Crystal Clear Conservative takes Ellmore to the cleaners here, and his aforementioned assistant campaign manager calls Ellmore a “hack” here. No matter what principles you have that you think the rest of the country should follow behind you with, that kind of firebrand politicking doesn’t win much respect except from those who agree with you; this cuts deeply into any arguments of being an “inclusive” candidate with crossover appeal.
Ron Paul, for his part, has stated publicly he probably won’t vote for John McCain the general election. Not terribly surprising, but I wonder what Amit Singh will do if Mark Ellmore wins the nomination.
Of course, the three of us here at Too Conservative are Mike Huckabee supporters, so labeling Mark Ellmore a Huckabee-esque candidate sets myself up for typecasting. However, I insist that I haven’t made up my mind yet. I pledged this week to learn more about each candidate, and I hope to do so from statements directly from the candidates, and not from surrogates and supporters. As has been amply demonstrated, Ron Paul supporters aren’t always the most diplomatic bunch. I hope that Singh’s campaign is able to focus more on their vision for the country, and less on what’s wrong with the people that don’t agree with them on every count. And I hope Ellmore is able to focus on why his vision for the role of government deserves to be considered by those who consider themselves conservative, and what specifically he will do to allay the concerns of fiscal conservatives.
In the meantime, I hope we can all remember Reagan’s 11th Commandment, and find a way to agree with each other on the best direction for our party and our country.