Can Jay Townsend be this year’s George Nethercutt?

Rick Robinson Author, Writ of Mandamus
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A skim of the headlines from 1994 indicates that it was a banner year for cultural icons.

1994 began with Lorena Bobbitt being found not guilty by reason of insanity for performing surgery without a license. The headlines went steadily downhill from there. Tonya Harding made her initial entry into reality television when her husband, Jeff Gillooly, was involved in getting Nancy Kerrigan’s leg whacked prior to the winter Olympics.

Millions of Americans were glued to their television sets as Al Cowlings paraded O.J. Simpson all around Los Angeles in a white Ford Bronco.

The year did have its moments when there appeared to be good karma in the world. Bryon De La Beckwith was finally convicted in the murder of Medger Evers, serial killer John Wayne Gacy was executed and George Foreman became the oldest man to ever win the world’s heavyweight boxing title.

But as cultural icons of 1994 go, who could ever forget George Nethercutt?

Who the hell is George Nethercutt?

You can’t swing a Gillooly around these days without hitting someone who is comparing the mood of the Tea Party movement to the voter discontent of 1994, when Republicans took over the House and Senate for the first time in four decades. In the 1994 midterm elections, there was a 54-seat swing in the United States House of Representatives.

No victory in 1994 was larger than George Nethercutt’s defeat of Speaker Tom Foley.

Foley had served as a Democratic Congressman from Washington’s Fifth Congressional District since 1964 and, in 1989, he had become speaker of the House. When Washington voters passed term limits at the ballot box, Foley filed suit against the measure. The disposition of the electorate was set and, the next time they had the chance, voters term limited Foley at the ballot box in favor of Nethercutt.

In 1994, George Nethercutt became the first candidate to unseat a sitting speaker of the House in a re-election bid in over 130 years.

As pundits sit around comparing this election cycle to 1994, the question is: “Who will be this year’s George Nethercutt?”

A group of Republicans in New York hope they have the answer.

Is Chuck Schumer’s time up?

While 24-hour election coverage was all focused on who would (and should) win in other races, New York’s Jay Townsend was quietly going about the business of getting the chance to face Senator Chuck Schumer in November. While others were arguing about Delaware, Townsend was giving a victory speech in New York.

No one can really blame the pundits for ignoring the New York Senate primary. Chuck Schumer has won election in New York since he first ran for Congress in 1980 and has a ton of cash in his campaign kitty. Jay Townsend is unknown and is operating his campaign on a tight budget and elbow grease. All conventional political wisdom says that Townsend has no chance.

But, 2010 is not a conventional election year.

Townsend’s primary victory was impressive. A record number of GOP primary voters turned out and gave him the nomination. In order to win the big one, Townsend has to keep voter excitement at a fevered pitch. Outside of New York City, Schumer’s approval ratings are under 50%. Much like Nethercutt’s bid to unseat Foley in 1994, Schumer’s current big lead is built on numbers that are thin.

Jay Townsend’s background as a campaign consultant showed through in his primary victory. He did an awful lot with a little bit of money. But, in the general, Schumer will have more money than God (or maybe even Donald Trump). Townsend is a Tea Partier without the financial base of Kentucky’s Rand Paul or the media sizzle of Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell. If the media continues to ignore Townsend’s candidacy, money will remain his greatest challenge.

For the big upset to occur in Schumer’s reelection bid, the GOP has to engage. The mood in the electorate is right for Townsend to score a George Nethercutt-style upset of Chuck Schumer. National party leaders have to recognize this and get into New York as quickly as possible.

If those things happen, Jay Townsend could become the biggest swinging Gillooly of 2010.

Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.