Campaign Crawlers

Dede Goes Down Upstate

Liberal Republican Scozzafava exits gracelessly.

By 11.2.09

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Hell hath no fury like a RINO scorned and anyone who expected Dede Scozzafava to lose gracefully got a rude awakening over the weekend. Having stubbornly stayed in the upstate New York congressional race long past the point where her defeat was a certainty, Scozzafava made a tearful exit that was a masterpiece of self-pitying distortion.

"In recent days, polls have indicated that my chances of winning this election are not as strong as we would like them to be," Scozzafava said in a statement issued Saturday morning. "The reality that I've come to accept is that in today's political arena, you must be able to back up your message with money -- and as I've been outspent on both sides, I've been unable to effectively address many of the charges that have been made about my record."

This was a triple distortion by the liberal Republican assemblywoman who had been the GOP leadership's handpicked choice for the nomination in the 23rd District special election.

Scozzafava's poll numbers had been collapsing for weeks. An Oct. 15 Siena College poll showed she had fallen behind Democrat Bill Owens, while insurgent Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman had picked up momentum. Her support melted down rapidly after an Oct. 19 incident when her husband, union organizer Ron McDougall, called police on Weekly Standard reporter John McCormack, who had tried to get her to answer questions about her position on tax increases and "card-check" legislation. Even before the confrontation with McCormack, however, Scozzafava's candidacy failed to draw strong GOP backing in a district that regularly voted by 2-to-1 margins for Republican Rep. John McHugh, whose appointment as Army Secretary had created the vacancy to be filled by Tuesday's special election.

Hoffman's conservative campaign effectively doomed the Republican nominee by exposing her liberal voting record in the New York legislature. If Scozzafava was "unable to effectively address many of the charges that have been made about [her] record," that was because the charges were true. After 11 years in Albany, during which she had risen to the rank of minority whip, Scozzafava had amassed a voting record more liberal than many Democratic assembly members. That her policy stances put her at odds with most Republican voters in the largely rural 23rd District was a liability that seems to have been overlooked by the GOP insiders who picked her for the nomination. Once the Hoffman campaign began hammering Scozzafava for her assembly record and positions on national issues, the Conservative Party candidate quickly gained ground against both her and the Democrat, Owens.

If Scozzafava's exit statement distorted both her poll problems and her record, the most shamefully false of her claims was her complaint about being unable "to back up [her] message with money." The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee had pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the 23rd District in support of Scozzafava -- to no avail, since the candidate's message never resonated with voters.

After the boohooing appearance Saturday morning where Scozzafava pulled the plug on her doomed campaign, Hoffman's campaign team issued a conciliatory response and privately urged their candidate's supporters to end attacks on their erstwhile Republican rival.

While prospects for the Republican to endorse the Conservative candidate were rumored, Team Hoffman hoped that at least Dede would remain neutral. During an appearance Saturday afternoon in Plattsburgh, Hoffman himself expressed sympathy for Scozzafava. "I realize the decision she had to make today was very difficult for her," the mild-mannered accountant said during an appearance at a VFW post with former Gov. George Pataki, expressing hope of working together with her on behalf of the district's interests.

Instead, Sunday afternoon, Scozzafava plunged her knife into the back of the party that had chosen her for the nomination, when she announced her endorsement of the Democratic candidate. She had "thought long and hard about what is best for the people of this District," Scozzafava said, asserting that her concern for "honest principles and a truthful discussion of the issues" led her to endorse Owens.

Thus ended weeks of intra-party division induced by the GOP's ill-fated choice. As Michael Patrick Leahy observed, "The NRCC and RNC just spent $1 million on Dede Scozzafava. This is their reward."

The first poll published in the wake of Scozzafava's withdrawal showed Hoffman with a commanding lead over the Democrat, Owens. Even if Hoffman wins big in tomorrow's election, however, the consequences of the Republican Party's blunders in this campaign are likely to be felt far away from upstate New York. A yawning chasm of alienation between the GOP establishment and the party's grassroots has been exposed.

If Scozzafava has done nothing else, she has shown Republican leaders to be what Michelle Malkin called them yesterday: "Suckers."

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.