"We've just been deluged with stuff," said Rob Ryan, media coordinator for Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, whose congressional campaign in upstate New York's 23rd District has "surged" in recent days.
The most recent poll showed Hoffman gaining 7 points while establishment-backed GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava has lost 6 points. Ryan said, "Republicans are coming home to roost, and it's in the Conservative roost."
In the past week, the three-way contest in the Nov. 3 special election has suddenly become America's most-watched campaign this fall, generating massive attention from reporters and commentators nationwide. The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Fox News, the Weekly Standard and scores of political blogs are following this campaign as a bellwether that could have major impact on the electoral landscape heading into the 2010 congressional mid-terms.
"This election is going to be a referendum on two things," Ryan said in a telephone interview Friday evening. "First, it's going to be a referendum on the first 10 months of the Obama administration. And second, it's going to be a referendum on the future of the Republican Party."
Given the district's history -- "It's been Republican since the Civil War," Ryan said -- many veteran observers have all but ignored the little-known Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, and are now focusing almost entirely on the battle between Hoffman and the liberal Republican, Scozzafava. That's a battle that Hoffman appears to be winning.
"Doug is a different kind of candidate," said Ryan, his voice hoarse from a long week of 14-hour workdays. "He's a citizen who's had enough."
The son of a single mom, Hoffman started work at age 14, pumping gas in his hometown of Saranac Lake, N.Y. He served for six years in the National Guard and Army Reserves, earned his way through college, became a CPA, and is now managing partner in a large accounting firm.
Hoffman is a lifelong resident of the 23rd District which, as Ryan points out, covers a larger geographical area than any other congressional district east of the Mississippi River. The largely rural district covers 11 counties near the Canadian border, from Lake Ontario on the west to the Vermont state line on the east. (Click image to see full-size.)
Since 1993, the district was represented by Republican John McHugh, who had a 74% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union and regularly won re-election by overwhelming margins -- 63% in 2006, and 65% in 2008, both bad years for the GOP.
Appointed by President Obama to be Secretary of the Army, McHugh saw his Senate confirmation delayed by Republicans until mid-September. New York's Democratic Gov. David Paterson didn't call for the special election until Sept. 29, by which time the three candidates were already lined up.
The Democrats' first-choice candidate begged off, leaving the party's nomination to Owens, a Plattsburgh lawyer. What shocked and angered many Republicans -- both in New York and nationwide -- was the way the state GOP leadership hand-picked Scozzafava, a state legislator so liberal as to be to the left of many Democrats in Congress. Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin described Scozzafava as an "ACORN-Friendly, Big Labor-Backing, Tax-and-Spend Radical in GOP Clothing."
Hoffman has explained that Scozzafava's connections with county GOP chairmen likely influenced the state party's decision to choose her over eight other candidates seeking the Republican nomination. "It was an anointment . . . The party bosses, the lords of the backroom, made this selection," Hoffman said Wednesday in an interview with reporters and bloggers.
While Hoffman blamed local political loyalties for the GOP's pick of Scozzafava, it has sparked bitter resentments on Capitol Hill, where GOP conservatives see the pick as the latest example of bungling by National Republican Congressional Committee staffers. As one Republican House member told The Prowler last week, he and his conservative colleagues "blame the NRCC staff for apparently not doing its job."
Ninety percent of House Republican members have reportedly refused to donate to the Scozzafava campaign, and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana has notably refused to endorse her. When conservative Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, under pressure from House GOP leadership, spoke up in support of Scozzafava, it caused a firestorm of criticism from conservatives.
Hammered by hard-hitting ads from Hoffman -- as well as from the free-market Club For Growth, which has backed the Conservative Party candidate -- Scozzafava's campaign was reportedly nearly broke earlier this week. But Friday, the Republican National Committee confirmed to Congressional Quarterly that it had made a "six-figure" transfer to the NRCC in order to fund the Scozzafava campaign -- producing yet another round of conservative denunciations of national GOP leadership. The grassroots outcry grew even louder when it was learned that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was also supporting Scozzafava.
Among Hoffman's supporters are Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the political action committee of the ACU, conservative talk-radio host Fred Thompson, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, and the influential GOP conservative blog Red State.
This explains the "deluge of stuff" the Hoffman campaign has been dealing with this week, but the Conservative candidate's staff -- nearly all of them veteran Republican operatives, Ryan says -- are strongly optimistic about Hoffman's chances.
"Most people outside the state don't understand New York state politics," Ryan said, noting that no GOP candidate has won election to a statewide office in New York without the Conservative endorsement since 1974. "The Conservative Party is looked at as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval by most Republican voters."
Another source close to the Hoffman campaign confirmed tonight that former House Majority Leader Dick Armey is expected to campaign for Hoffman next week. A Texan who is now chairman of the pro-market group Freedomworks, Armey was a key leader of fiscal conservatives in the House GOP during the "Contract With America" era of the 1990s.
Freedomworks was a main sponsor of last month's 9/12 March On DC, which drew a huge crowd to the Capitol as part of the Tea Party movement that began early this year and has sparked rallies nationwide. Hoffman has been endorsed by the 9/12 project, the political arm of the Tea Party movement. In an exclusive interview late Friday, the candidate said he hopes to have as many as 500 Tea Party volunteers nationwide assisting his campaign locally in the final week before the Nov. 3 election.
"They're getting excited about my campaign because I'm the Reagan conservative they're looking for," Hoffman said by telephone, shortly after attending the official opening of a new local campaign headquarters in Plattsburgh. "They're coming from around the country to help us out."
Top aides to the campaign say they expect the next poll -- from Quinnipiac, due out next week -- will show even more gains for the Conservative candidate. Stressing the need for more campaign cash to maintain his momentum, Hoffman predicted that Scozzafava's support will "continue dropping" while he focuses more on the Democrat, Owens.
"We're going to show that he supports the Pelosi agenda," Hoffman said. He said Owens has expressed support for both the Big Labor-backed "card check" legislation and for massive "stimulus" spending, policies that Hoffman says are unpopular with the 23rd District voters he's been meeting along the campaign trail.
"Everybody's concerned about the economy and the runaway government spending," he said.
UPDATE 10/18: Conservatives Ask, 'What Will Sarah Palin Do?'
NY-23: PREVIOUSLY IN THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR:
- The Great RINO Hunt in Upstate New York October 16, 2009
- UPDATE: Conservative Hoffman Gains in N.Y. Special Election October 15, 2009
- Huckabee and Hoffman October 15, 2009
- RINO 'On the Run' in NY23 Special Election October 14, 2009
- Losing It Over Scozzafava October 8, 2009
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