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GOP Squabbling Jeopardizes N.Y. Seat

By Ben Pershing
A Republican civil war is imperiling the party's chances of retaining an open House seat in upstate New York, as squabbling between GOP conservatives and moderates has provided Democrats with an opening.

On Nov. 3, voters will go to the polls in the 23rd district for a special election to replace Rep. John McHugh (R), who resigned his seat to become Secretary of the Army. But while Republicans like their chances in two other contests being decided that day -- the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey -- the GOP is having problems in the Empire State.

As Democrats have coalesced behind lawyer Bill Owens, Republicans are split between state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, the official GOP candidate, and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. Though President Obama won the 23rd district -- which covers the northern portion of the state from Lake Ontario to the Vermont border -- with 52 percent of the vote, McHugh was always reelected easily and the district has a history of supporting Republicans. And with GOP electoral hopes across the country on the rise, the environment should be ripe for the seat to stay in the red column.

But the battle between the moderate Scozzafava and the conservative Hoffman has divided Republicans in both New York and Washington, boosting Democrats' hopes in the process.

"It's going to be close," said Rep. Dan Maffei (D), who represents the neighboring 25th district. "Obviously, the three-way dynamic favors us more than a two-way election."

A poll released Thursday by the Siena Research Institute explains why: Owens leads Scozzafava in the contest, 33 percent to 29 percent, while Hoffman draws 23 percent. Those numbers mark a shift from the Siena poll taken just two weeks ago, which had Scozzafava at 35 percent, Owens at 29 and Hoffman at 16.

Scozzafava's campaign has already responded to the poll, telling the Albany Times-Union that she is still in good position because Owens is "out of touch" and Hoffman is "unelectable."

The charge that Scozzafava has been too moderate is being led by Club for Growth, a group that backs fiscally conservative candidates and has a long history of irritating Republican party leaders in the process. The club has spent at least $250,000 on television ads hammering Scozzafava, likening her to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and unpopular New York Gov. David Paterson (D). The group has helped Hoffman raise money, while Scozzafava -- who is also being hit with negative ads from Democrats -- is reportedly low on cash and had to pull a planned ad buy last week. (None of the candidates has filed fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission yet.)

Some on the right have stepped up to try to help Scozzafava. She got the endorsement of the National Rifle Association last week, and several Republicans in Washington -- including House Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) -- have cut checks to her campaign. But the support from House Republicans, both verbal and financial, has been relatively meager given that the seat is at risk. Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, declined to comment Thursday when asked by Capitol Briefing whom he was backing in the contest. The Hill notes that House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) has also pointedly declined to endorse a candidate.

Conservatives complaints about Scozzafava center on her votes on economic and budget issues in New York, and her support for abortion rights and gay rights (the Family Research Council has endorsed Hoffman because of Scozzafava's social views). But her backers point out that McHugh is also a moderate, and that only a centrist Republican can hold the seat given the lean of the district and the state -- the GOP holds only 3 seats (including McHugh's) out of New York's 29 total.

Despite the battle on the right, Democrats are not taking a win to the bank. Republicans still hold a registration edge in the district, and that Siena poll shows Owens only barely ahead.

"I think overconfidence would be misplaced here," Maffei said. "This is going to go right down to the wire."

By Ben Pershing  |  October 15, 2009; 2:58 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Campaign , GOP Leaders , House  
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FLASH! GOP tearing itself apart in New York, and in 49 other states over issue of who hates gays and loves Wall Street more!

Stay tuned for a continued - and maybe enlarged - Democratic majority in both houses!

Posted by: JC505 | October 15, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Scozzafava is not a moderate Republican. She is a liberal who mirrors the Democrat on a number of issues and probably would be too liberal to be a Blue Dog if she was a Democrat. Hoffman is the only candidate in this race who is not left of center.

Posted by: KansasMT | October 15, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Who in their right mind would ever again vote for a member of the Party of No?

Posted by: rrowleyarizona | October 15, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

The party of "NO" is the party of NO MORE TAXES !!! You must be one of the freeloaders

Posted by: noHUCKABEEnoVOTE | October 15, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Scozzafava ? KICK HER OF THE REP. BUS !!! Either let the OBAMUNISTS have her or use her for a speed bump ... but don't let her be a REPUBLICAN.

Posted by: noHUCKABEEnoVOTE | October 15, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

This is just a preview of 2010. The battle between those who hope that Americans will forget that Republicans screwed things up to the tune of 2 trillion borrowed bucks and started 1 phony war and mismanaged another. and those that insist that if only Bush had been a 'real' conservative, we would be in even worse shape. Neither group has a chance.

Fear, Hatred, Distortion and Division is all they've got.

Posted by: thebobbob | October 16, 2009 1:21 AM | Report abuse

It's just an odd situation in NY politically because the guy they had was a really good guy for their area. Now they need another conservative, who's not a torch bearer for social extremists & their desire to force everyone else to live the way they want. That can be tough to find in the GOP these days.

The Family Research Councils argument seems to be one of "vote for who we endorse so that we can run your life when he's in office". That doesn't have a lot of sales appeal if you aren't a complete nut job.

Posted by: timscanlon | October 16, 2009 3:09 AM | Report abuse

These battles remind me of the 60's and 70's when
the democratic party was tearing itself apart between
the far left and the ethnic machines and the new dealers.

It left the Democratic party in shambles for 2 decades.

Posted by: patb | October 16, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

In the context of NY State politics Scozzafava is a moderate -- fairly liberal on social issues but conservative on fiscal policy. She opposes the health care bill and favors making the Bush tax cuts, including the abolition of the estate tax, permanent. This was the formula that elected George Pataki governor and kept him in office and that Joe Bruno used to hold a state senate majority, but the right opposes any compromise. They believe that if Hoffman's candidacy results in a Democratic victory, the Republican party will be forced to select extreme right wing candidates. And if those candidates lose, they don't care. The Republican Party is already nearly wiped out in NY and will only recover if the Democrats self-destruct which is always a possibility.

Posted by: polprof | October 16, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Hoffman is much more liberal than he pretends to be. Only when the Tea Party Patriots showed some strength did he endorse bringing guns to presidential speeches. He is anti-gun and for higher property taxes, which of course will not matter in a House race. And he hasn't read Glenn Beck's books, either. Only a large anti-Italian vote can defeat Scozzafava, and the Club for Growth is all for that if that's what it takes.

Posted by: Jessel1 | October 16, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I live in this district. I was the 1994 DEM candidate against John McHugh (the hardest race at the time – the Gingrich “Contract” thing)... And, I competed for this nomination in August – but the party chairs picked INDY Owens over all others, including 12 bona fide DEMs.

I say that because Mr. Owens is not a DEM until after election (NYS law) ... he is running a slick, expensive and very stealth “PR” campaign. He is also running all over the state and DC (all outside the district) raking in big insider money and ducking issues like the public health care option and troops for Afghanistan, etc. – both critical issues.

The GOP for their part is tearing itself apart between the moderate/liberal Dede Scozzafava (with her big labor support and money which is amazing too – since she opposes most-labor issues like the public option), and Doug Hoffman (the rabid conservative novice with narrow Fox-GOP views on most things).

Sadly, Owens will probably glide in via slick expensive Ads and not much else which means he will fit nicely in DC – an insider with lots of money and moneyed ties -- what is “change about that?”

BTW: no DEM has served this region in Congress since the Civil War – so you'd think we could have done better – I fear we have not. That’s the worst part.

NY 23rd District Race

Posted by: eyepublius | October 16, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

rrowleyarizona wrote: Who in their right mind would ever again vote for a member of the Party of No?

ekim53 would. White, 30-something tea bagger men would too.

Doesn't "tea-bagging" mean doing something like licking someone's bunghole? Is that what conservatives are so proud of?

Posted by: swatkins1 | October 16, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Since when did Boehner and Cantor become dems? Cause they'd have to to be the majority leader and whip. Just saying.

Posted by: kjdtarheel | October 16, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

As a registered Republican and a life-long resident of New York's 23rd Congressional District, I have watched in horror the shabby treatment Ms. Scozzafava has received from House Republicans and the National Repbulican Party. Republicans who are in position to have helped with funding and on-site, visable suppport long before the late hours of the campaign have stood on the sidelines paving the way for disaster. Should Ms. Scozzafava fail to win, the Republican Party will clearly be a pivotal player in the loss of the 23rd Congressional District.

Posted by: cwhaas | October 16, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

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