This past Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the New York 23rd Congressional District debate, featuring Republican incumbent Tom Reed and his challenger, Democrat Martha Robertson. I arrived to the debate an hour prior at the request of my county GOP chair, and was surprised to arrive at an absolute spectacle. Several hundred supporters had already descended upon the arena, both sides being very well represented, though the Republican incumbent had a clear edge in numbers. As we stood in the hallway a group of snide looking college liberals stood to the side, chanting “a vote for Reed is a vote for greed”. The majority Reed crowd immediately responded by chanting “Tom Reed! Tom Reed!”, setting off a frenzy and prompting one of the organizers to call for a calm entrance into the arena. It turned out that it was a good thing for me to have gotten there so early, because the room to accommodate audience members was maybe 300 people large, and well over half of those who showed up were unable to get into the debate. I was able to get into the second to last row, settle in, and watch the debate.
As I was sitting in the crowd, waiting for about 15 or so minutes before 7:00 PM came and the CSPAN broadcast could bring upon the start of the debate, I began to look around the crowd. I immediately noticed that I was surrounded by Robertson supporters, many of whom were very extreme liberals. In fact, a woman in front of me had a large sign titled “Another Extreme Liberal for Martha”, seemingly driving home the point of Robertson’s opponent. College liberals behind me snarkily commented on some vague racism they had thought Tom Reed displayed, and older liberal women in front of me waved their Robertson signs enthusiastically. This was a very different group then the Republicans I had been with prior to the debate. Even still, I took my seat with the members of my county GOP as we anticipated Martha’s big gaffe. We did not know what it would be, but we figured it was coming.
What unfolded was largely uneventful, with both candidates sticking to their talking points. One minor highlight was Robertson’s declaration that the incumbent was lying about her vote in favor of a resolution supporting of the SAFE Act, a vote she made at the public safety committee of the county legislature she serves on currently. Reed pointed this out in response, though it did not seem to gain much traction. What did make waves, however, was the segment at the end of the debate when the candidates were told to ask each other one question. Reed asked his first, a local issue regarding a power plant closure, and then it came time for Martha to ask her question of Reed. What followed was nothing short of hilarious.
Robertson based her question around the accusation that Tom Reed was a part of the “war against women”, a charge that drew piercing laughs of ridicule from the audience. The laugh was loud and long enough that the moderator had to plead with the crowd to be quiet. Robertson, immediately ticked off, asked for more time and continued to reel off her ridiculous question. Reed rejected the premise of her question, stating that what she had charged was “simply not true”, and went on to deliver an answer that drew the only applause of the night. The debate was nearly over, and its defining moment had finally been found. Tom Reed with one exchange had decisively won.
The candidates finished up with their closing statements, each side of the crowd chanted at each other for a few minutes, and the people began to pour out of the arena. The media coverage that followed largely centered around the Robertson gaffe, one which has the potential to define her entire campaign, a campaign which has been struggling heavily. What made the moment even more devastating was that it was a planned and prepared remark, a moment where she was literally given the floor to set the premise against her opponent, and her pathetic attempt drew nothing but laughter. As a conservative looking at the moment from a national perspective, I consider it to be a sign of the waning effectiveness of the “War on Women” charge. I cannot help but think that such a notion would have played more effectively in the past election cycle, where the “War on Women” charge actually was an effective tool for the Democrats. That being said, it seems as if that dog won’t hunt anymore. If vague statements about Republicans being against an entire half of our population cannot work in a Central New York district that voted for Obama, it will no longer be effective in the modern political dialogue.