Opinion: Conservative Doug Hoffman forces GOP choice out of Tuesday’s House race in N.Y. (Updated)


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(UPDATE: An update has been added below.)

Under pressure from conservative forces within her own party, Dede Scozzafava, the regular Republican nominee in the interim House race for New York’s 23d District, suddenly withdrew from the race today.

Though endorsed by the Republican National Committee and big GOP establishment names like ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Scozzafava had fallen to third place in polls of the upstate longtime Republican district next to the Canadian border.


Her retreat came in the face of a vigorous campaign by Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who was backed by Sarah Palin, Dick Armey and Fred Thompson, among others. .

Her surprise move sets up a two-man showdown in just 72 hours between Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens in a slick attempt by Obama White House strategists to add another seat to their party’s overwhelming House majority, 257-178.

The president had appointed the Republican incumbent, John McHugh, as secretary of the Army, hoping to use a special election and the president’s 52% popularity there last fall to break the GOP’s historic hold on the district that runs back to the 19th century.

Initially, Hoffman’s insurgent challenge of the moderate Scozzafava’s selection by state party county chairmen looked to split Republicans and guarantee an Owens victory.

But in a local reflection of the nationwide intra-party Republican struggle between conservatives and what they call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), Hoffman’s support and money have surged lately. A recent Siena poll showed him at 35%, Owens at 36% and Scozzafava trailing at 20%, with a 4-point margin of error.

In her surrender statement, Scozzafava, a moderate who had close union ties and more liberal social views, said she

...had been outspent by both sides but declined to endorse either survivor.


(UPDATE: Sunday: Not that there’s any political bad blood or anything, but today the Republican ex-candidate changed her mind. She endorsed the current Democrat candidate instead of the Conservative candidate now backed by her old Republican Party. And on Monday Vice President Biden has found time in his schedule to campaign locally for Owens.)

However, national party chair Michael Steele immediately endorsed Hoffman and promised full party resources to help him in the campaign’s final three days. He said:

This selfless act of releasing her supporters provides voters with the opportunity to unite around a candidate who shares Republican principles and will serve the interests of his constituents in Congress by standing in opposition to the liberal policies of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi. Effective immediately, the RNC will endorse and support the conservative candidate in the race, Doug Hoffman. Doug’s campaign will receive the financial backing of the RNC, and get-out-the-vote efforts to defeat Bill Owens on Tuesday.I appreciate the hard work Dede put into her campaign, and for understanding the political reality of this race. By releasing her supporters she has gracefully placed the Party before her own self interest, and for this she deserves enormous credit and respect.

‘The age of party leaders picking people is over,’ Gingrich told Politico Saturday.

A ready, Conservative third-party choice may make the New York state district unique in terms of local GOP bases rebelling against Republicans perceived as too liberal.

But even if the Democrat wins, the results Tuesday won’t significantly change the situation in the House, where Democrats control a huge majority. The political significance comes in the ongoing struggle for the ideological heart of the GOP party, which has been in disarray since its unquestionable defeat last November.

Conservatives say that came because the party had become a pale imitation of spend-a-lot Democrats and was not true to its smaller government, less spending roots.

The emergence last spring, for example, of the tea party movement, which caught Washington party leaders by surprise, is another reflection. As is the third party conservative challenger in New Jersey’s gubernatorial contest Tuesday who could draw away sufficient unhappy Republican voters from Chris Christie to re-elect Democrat incumbent Jon Corzine.

The Obama administration’s ambitious spending plans and projected deficits beyond the comprehension of most civilian calculators have only served to intensify those fiscal concerns among many Republicans.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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