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OPINION: Conservatives flexed muscles in recent election

Michael Dawidziak has been a political consultant, strategist and pollster for over 30 years.Tomorrow marks a full month after Election Day, and while some results still haven't been determined, there's one thing we do know: It was a great year for the Conservative Party.

On a night that was, on the national level, a Republican tsunami, it was easy to overlook the gains made by this minor party. But not only was the Conservative Party line the margin of victory in what was historically the biggest statewide pickup of seats in the House of Representatives for the GOP, it was also instrumental in what looks to be the return to the majority for the Republicans in the New York State Senate.

Here on Long Island, the Conservative line provided what appears to be the margin of victory for challenger Jack Martins of Mineola over Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington). And the party's early and continued support of challenger Lee Zeldin of Shirley was instrumental in his decisive defeat of Sen. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point). The Conservatives can also claim bragging rights for helping the Republicans pick up six seats in the Assembly, including the margin of victory for Dan Losquadro (a client of my consulting firm) over the well-regarded incumbent, Democrat Assemb. Marc Alessi, also of Shoreham.

But probably the biggest and most satisfying victory for the Conservative Party is that it appears to have recaptured what it feels is its rightful ballot position: Row C, a spot it hasn't held since the 1998 gubernatorial election. Yes, it looks like the party can once again say, "Vote Row C for Conservative!"

How'd they do it? The obvious conclusion is that fate smiled upon them with a failing economy and a political landscape tailor-made for their message. While that's true enough, give the party leaders credit for recognizing and capitalizing on this. They called the right plays for the conditions on the field.

It's all too easy to be a culture warrior. Playing to extremist positions on either side of the political spectrum gets you on TV, but it's not what wins elections. Without abandoning core social issues important to their rank and file, the Conservative Party leaders stuck to a fiscal message that attracted a much broader range of voters. By realizing the renewed relevance of the James Carville mantra - it's the economy, stupid! - they were able to appeal to moderate voters who might not necessarily agree with them on social matters.

In essence, the Conservative Party went back to its roots. The party was founded in New York in February 1962, in reaction to what its originators saw as the undue influence of the unions and the Liberal Party on state government - and in particular the leftward drift of the Republican Party under Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

The party's "Declaration of Principles" makes for interesting reading today. It includes "freeing the workingman" and "freeing the farmers from bureaucratic regulation," "freeing the energy of American industry, by eliminating specialized subsidies and governmental favors," and "freeing the consumer from the pressure of constant inflation."

Sound familiar? A mailing from the Suffolk County Conservative Party this fall stressed "fiscal responsibility," "economic growth" and "eliminating out of control spending" - and then, not too subtly, reminded voters these have been the issues that for decades, "one party has stood for and fought for."

By sticking to fiscal issues in a year when that was all anybody cared about, the Conservative Party was able to appeal to a wide swath of the electorate. In a year when it was saddled with what can only be charitably characterized as a "challenged" gubernatorial candidate in Carl Paladino, the Conservative Party was able to lead a resurgence - based on its founding beliefs.

And that's smart politics.

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