The NY-23 special election on Tuesday has the attention of the White House at the highest levels, with White House sources saying that the endorsement of Democrat Bill Owens by “Republican” Dede Scozzafava came only after a call from White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel asking that she throw her support behind the Democrat.
On Monday Vice President Joe Biden will visit the district, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Sunday was coordinating with its colleagues in the SEIU as well as the Working Families Party (ACORN) and may spend as much as $150,000 over the next 48 hours to defeat conservative Doug Hoffman. Had polling for Owens appeared stronger on Saturday, the White House was prepared to send former president Bill Clinton into the district as well.
Meanwhile, on the GOP side, as late as Thursday evening, the National Republican Congressional Committee was working on endorsements to shore up Scozzafava, who suspended her campaign on Saturday morning after another round of polling in the upstate New York district confirmed she was running well back of two other candidates in the run-off election.
But hours after Rudy Giuliani spurned the pleas of NRCC chairman Rep. Pete Sessions to endorse Scozzafava, according to NRCC sources, Sessions told staff to suspend anti-Hoffman media efforts online and in the district. “We thought Rudy endorsing would have been the game changer,” says an NRCC source. “But even he wasn’t going to eat the dog food we were trying to sell. We had a lousy candidate and the other guys had a better campaign strategy and more energy.”
Regardless of what happens on Tuesday in the special election between Conservative Party candidate Hoffman and the Democrat Owens, House Republican leaders and staff say there will be repercussions inside the NRCC, which failed to do the most basic vetting of a candidate before backing Scozzafava, who, according to media reports late Saturday, had spent the day calling supporters to encourage them to vote for the Democrat in the race.
“We didn’t,” says the NRCC source about checking Scozzafava’s voting record and her previous campaign history for the New York state legislature. “The local party endorsed her; they didn’t endorse Hoffman or anyone else. She was their pick. That’s what we went on.” But the aide added that even then, that should not have precluded the NRCC from withholding endorsements and funds to the candidate who clearly was not a Republican in the traditional sense of the term.
“We assumed she was a lot like other northeastern Republicans, similar to the [Susan] Collinses of the world,” says the aide. “We had no idea she was that far to the left until we started reading about her on the blogs. By then, given the way politics and this place [Capitol Hill] works, it was too late to turn back.”
White House senior adviser Susan Crawford resigned last week to little fanfare, but some White House insiders say her leaving may reveal growing tensions inside the Obama Administration about just how radical the administration has become in developing policies.
Crawford, who was one of the leading voices during the Obama transition period, and then stayed on as Obama’s key adviser on technology and communications policy, was credited with putting in place the general policy overlays in those subject areas that guided many of the Administration’s hiring and appointments to the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department. She was a strong proponent of Net Neutrality regulations, which would allow the government to regulate the Internet, and in her role sitting on the president’s councils on economic policy, she supported strong government interventions and controls of private business.
But White House sources say that she ran afoul of senior White House economics adviser Larry Summers, who claimed he and other senior Obama officials were unaware of how radical the draft Net Neutrality regulations were when they were initially internally circulated to Obama administration officials several weeks ago. “All of sudden Larry is getting calls from CEOs, Wall Street folks he talks to, Republicans and Democrats, asking him what the Administration is doing with the policies, and he isn’t sure what they’re talking about,” says one White House aide. “He felt blind-sided, and Susan was one of those people who heard about it.” In the end, the proposed regulations were slightly moderated from the original language FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, a Crawford ally, circulated.
Crawford resigned, citing the need to return to her tenured position at the University of Michigan law school, but White House sources say that when Crawford signed on to the administration, she told them the university had given her a two-year waiver before requiring a return. “There may have been miscommunication there, but we thought it was two years,” says the White House source. Similar waivers — usually two or three years — were given to a number of academics who joined the Bush Administration in various positions back in 2001.
Crawford’s exit comes at a time when some Obama Administration aides, after seeing the fallout from the resignation of Van Jones and the spotlight placed on leftists inside the administration, like Anita Dunn, wonder if it is too late to pull back many of the more radical aides now placed in a number of different cabinet level departments, including the Department of Justice, and the Energy and Education departments, and federal agencies. “They haven’t done us any good on any level,” says the White House aide. “And now they are just a bunch of targets on our back that we can’t shake.”