Now things get really interesting.
For the next four days, at any rate, the GOP's "conservative"* faction has broken the Republican Party to its leash (and they're whooping it up, too, you betcha).
After that ... well, that kind of depends on what happens Tuesday.
If Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman wins the election, the "conservatives" will likely exercise de facto control of the GOP at least through 2012. That probably means four more years for Barack Obama, but the Republican establishment can't afford to leave an opening for additional "third party" outbreaks unless it wants to become a "third party" itself. Being the minority opposition party in a two-party system beats complete disintegration. Of course, closing off a "conservative" exodus to a third party may well amount to hanging up a "don't let the door hit you in the ass" sign for other types of Republicans (libertarian-leaning ones, for example).
If Democrat Bill Owens wins, on the other hand, the situation will get a lot more fluid. GOP establishment types will have plenty of ammo for a sort of drawn-out Night of the Long Knives versus the ringleaders of the "conservative" defection, and all-out war for control of the Republican Party is a distinct possibility. Which, again, probably means four more years for Barack Obama and definitely enhances the prospect of one or more third parties tearing big, bloody chunks out of the GOP's rotting carcass.
There's just no good outcome in this for the GOP. If you hear music in the background, that's the fat lady and the world's smallest violinist tuning up for the Big Shew. Good stuff, Maynard!
*: I've started putting scare quotes around "conservative" in the context of the NY-23 race because it's not evident that the ... zeitgeist, for lack of a better word ... of the movement driving the Hoffman candidacy is responsive to that term as normally used (i.e. Goldwaterite, Buckleyite, Reaganite, etc.). "Right-wing populism" /= "conservatism."