Campaign Crawlers

NY23: ‘Do You Believe in Miracles’?

Hoffman gets a grassroots surge in Upstate New York.

By 10.28.09

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What a difference two weeks can make. Toward the end of an Oct. 14 conference call organized by David Keene of the American Conservative Union, congressional candidate Doug Hoffman plaintively asked, "Does anybody know how to get Glenn Beck interested in this?"

Monday afternoon, Hoffman was interviewed on Beck's popular Fox News program, evidence of the surging momentum the Conservative Party candidate has experienced in the three-way special election campaign in update New York's 23rd District.

In the past six days, Hoffman has been endorsed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, former National Republican Congressional Campaign chairmen John Linder and Tom Cole…

The complete list of Hoffman endorsers is a long one, and seems to include nearly every Republican except Newt Gingrich and Dede Scozzafava, the later of whom is Hoffman's opponent, and the former her only prominent supporter. According to the two most recent polls, the liberal Republican Scozzafava is now in third place, while Hoffman has pulled ahead of Democrat Bill Owens.

Both of those latest polls require a grain of salt because they were commissioned by organizations (Club for Growth and Minuteman PAC) that support Hoffman. Polls or no polls, however, there is a strong sense among observers that Hoffman may be on the verge of one of the biggest political upsets of recent years.

The amazing surge of support toward Hoffman is remarkable in several ways. His grassroots campaign pits him against both the Democratic and Republican national campaign machines in a district which, as liberal media have repeatedly emphasized, went 52 percent for President Obama just a year ago. Hoffman's evident success is even more amazing because the candidate himself gives new meaning to the phrase "not a professional politician."

Not only has the bespectacled businessman never sought public office before, but he is far from the ideal candidate in an age where voters expect soundbites delivered by telegenic smoothies. A certified public accountant, Hoffman's un-politician style was clearly evident in the low-key way he gave his laconic answers to Beck during Monday's interview.

"Well, I never thought I'd be in politics, but Glenn, quite frankly, I was fed up," Hoffman said. "I was fed up with what was happening to our country. I was fed up with the out-of-control spending, taxes, government regulations on us and business, and I thought somebody had to step up and do something about it."

His delivery was not slick, but Hoffman's message has clearly resonated with others who are "fed up," including Tea Party activists like Dana Loesch, who created a special blog called "Dump Dede" to protest against the way GOP insiders handpicked Scozzafava as the Republican nominee. Loesch's blog is part of a tide of online activism on Hoffman's behalf that indicates how far the conservative grassroots have come toward closing the "New Media" gap with their liberal counterparts, whose Internet edge helped power Democrat wins in the past two election cycles.

Chief among the online crusaders for the Hoffman campaign has been Erick Erickson of Red State. Long a mainstream figure among Republican bloggers, Erickson has bucked the GOP establishment in recent months, joining the protest against the National Republican Senatorial Committee's early endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida's 2010 Senate primary.

Erickson's blog led a push for Hoffman that raised grassroots conservative awareness of the election to replace nine-term Republican Rep. John McHugh, recently confirmed as Obama's Secretary of the Army. With a congressional campaign compressed into five weeks -- New York Gov. David Paterson didn't officially call for the Nov. 3 election until late September -- major national media paid little attention. (It wasn't until Tuesday that the New York Times published its first major front-page article about the upstate contest.)

Less than a dozen conservative bloggers were on the Oct. 14 ACU conference call, but within days, the Hoffman campaign had suddenly "gone viral," as Internet gurus say. The fact that Palin's endorsement was announced on her Facebook page shows just how conservatives have adopted Web 2.0 technology -- and the staggering $116,000 in PayPal contributions generated that day demonstrates what a powerful tool online fundraising can be.

After that Thursday haul, Team Hoffman stopped announcing their fundraising totals -- a good indication that the campaign has overcome the financial crisis that had previously hampered its operation. Conservative volunteers answering the campaign's call for "boots on the ground" are reportedly streaming into the district to help push Hoffman toward the finish line.

No one at Hoffman HQ is counting their chickens yet, of course. The only televised debate to feature all three candidates is scheduled for Thursday, and Hoffman this week has been hit by TV attack ads from both the Democrats and Republicans.

Yet both the campaign staff and their grassroots supporters sense they may be approaching a victory as stunning as the U.S. hockey team's upset of the Soviets in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics for which Hoffman served as chief accountant. As the clock ticked down toward an American victory, ABC's Al Michaels excitedly shouted, "Do you believe in miracles?" before answering his own question with an emphatic, "Yes!"

The clock now ticks down toward Election Day in upstate New York, and the Hoffman campaign is hoping for a similarly miraculous answer.

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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.