October 22nd, 2009
04:12 PM ET
13 years ago

GOP fault lines on display in NY-23

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/19/art.hoffman.gi.jpg caption="Conservative Club for Growth, which is backing third-party candidate Doug Hoffman, calls Republican Dede Scozzafava and Democrat Bill Owens 'two liberals'."]
(CNN) - If Democrat Bill Owens manages to claim victory in next month's special congressional election in upstate New York, he'll have some unlikely benefactors to thank.

In an echo of the Sen. Arlen Specter-Pat Toomey fight that prompted the Pennsylvania senator to abandon the GOP - many of the toughest attacks on the Republican nominee, state assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, are coming from voters who identify themselves as conservatives. The catcalls from the right became a chorus Thursday, with simultaneous noon editorials from major conservative media outlets - including the National Review, Washington Times, and RedState.com - all calling on Scozzafava to withdraw from the race, citing a run-in earlier this week with a conservative journalist.

The GOP candidate, said the Washington Examiner, "should withdraw from the special election campaign for New York's 23rd congressional district. And donors to the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which funded Scozzafava, should demand their money back."

The national party re-affirmed its support for Scozzafava. "The NRCC supports Dede in this race," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay. "We will continue to remind central and northern New Yorkers that a vote for Doug Hoffman or Bill Owens is a vote for Nancy Pelosi and her far left, radical agenda."

Both Owens and Scozzafava - but particularly the Republican candidate - have been hit hard by conservatives backing third-party candidate Doug Hoffman, who has now pulled within single digits of the GOP's pick in the most recent survey of district voters.

The campaign for this House seat is the latest display of disaffection from the conservative base over the national GOP's recent candidate recruitment efforts. Hoffman has nabbed the backing of New York's Conservative Party, which generally supports Republican nominees – a nod that, in a state where candidates can run under multiple party lines, can often provide the edge in narrow races.

(Update after the jump: Sarah Palin weighs in)

Leaders of the Republicans' Senate and House campaign committees have come under attack from conservatives upset over the party's picks, including the early decision to back Florida Gov. Charlie Crist over former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in next year's Senate race. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, got a firsthand glimpse of the disaffection over the summer, when his appearance at a Tea Party event in his home state drew a solid chorus of boos from the crowd. Scozzafava, who was selected by the state party and did not face primary voters, is the latest target of conservatives upset over what they view as top-down dictates from party leaders.

And this week, those GOP fault lines have been on display as Scozzafava's campaign adopted a defensive posture in confrontations with conservative critics. A faceoff with Weekly Standard journalist John McCormack provoked hours of recriminations in cyberspace - and provided fodder for a new radio ad from the Hoffman team mocking her team's decision to call police over the incident. The Republican nominee held a press conference outside Hoffman's campaign headquarters – only to find herself surrounded by sign-carrying Hoffman volunteers, a visual that echoed the dominant impression trailing the candidate: that she's literally besieged on all sides. And in response to criticism that lack of support for Scozzafava was 'anti-woman,' the Family Research Council Action Political Action Committee released a stinging statement blasting the Republican for her positions on abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

"You can be certain that conservatives will back a woman candidate when that woman reflects the conservative values of her district and supports the very document that is the platform of her own Party," said PAC president Connie Mackey. "From what we have seen, Dede Scozzafava does neither." The FRC Action PAC has backed Hoffman. So has the anti-immigration Minuteman PAC, and former House Majority Leader and FreedomWorks founder Dick Armey.

It hasn't been all bad news for Scozzafava, who's nabbed the backing of some conservative stalwarts - the National Rifle Association has endorsed her. So has Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker came to her defense Thursday, chiding her critics for failing to see the big picture. "My number one interest in the 2009 elections is to build a Republican majority," he wrote in a blog post. "If your interest is taking power back from the Left, and your interest is winning the necessary elections, then there are times when you have to put together a coalition that has disagreement within it."

But Scozzafava's opponents are reaching deep into their wallets, pouring money into the district as the race enters the home stretch. Conservatives need to help Hoffman beat Scozzafava, Erick Erickson wrote earlier this month in one of his semi-regular fundraising pleas for the third-party candidate on the blog redstate.com. "It is galling to me that John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Jeff Sessions, and the House Republican Leadership would fall in line behind a Democrat just because she has an 'R' next to her name. Better the Democrat who isn't afraid to say it than the one who is. Conservatives, though, should rally behind Doug Hoffman who will caucus with the GOP and is the legitimate principled candidate."

"This is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," he added later, in a separate pitch. "It is the House version of the Marco Rubio race. We should put them both over the top. Make it happen."

And the fiscally conservative Club for Growth hit the airwaves with roughly $300,000 of TV and radio ads aimed at conservative-leaning voters on Hoffman's behalf. One TV spot hit both major party candidates, comparing Owens to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Scozzafava to New York's unpopular governor, David Paterson.

TV ads from Hoffman's campaign paint him as the race's true conservative – a message that may resonate in the reliably Republican district. The seat's previous occupant, former GOP Rep. John McHugh - who left office to serve as President Obama's Secretary of the Army – won re-election in 2008 by nearly 2-to-1 over his Democratic challenger.

"There's something going on today. Politicians don't understand it. But Americans are fighting back. That's why conservative Republican Doug Hoffman is running for Congress," says the narrator in a 30-second Hoffman spot. "He'll fight for strict term limits, reject pork barrel spending, oppose and refuse any pay hike for Congress. Army veteran, businessman, NRA member, Hoffman will take our conservative values to Washington."

A Siena survey released earlier this month, before the Club for Growth and Hoffman ads hit the airwaves, found Scozzafava held a 7-point edge over Owens, 35-28 percent. Hoffman registered 16 percent – despite the fact that roughly 7 in 10 of those polled didn't know who he was. Last week, in a new Siena poll, Scozzafava's 7-point advantage over Owens had turned into an apparent 4-point deficit, though one roughly within the poll's 3.9 percent sampling error – she now trailed the Democrat, 33-29. Hoffman had also picked up support - and, at 23 percent, was within single digits of Scozzafava.

Republicans may be hoping the party's longtime dominance in the district to make the difference on Election Day - and there may not be much else they can count on to spark a Scozzafava surge: Siena found that, by a 28-12 margin, those who'd seen the GOP candidate's campaign ads said the spots made them less likely to support her.

Update: Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, endorsed a candidate in the NY-23 race Thursday night - and it wasn't the Republican.

"Political parties must stand for something," she wrote in a post on her Facebook page. "When Republicans were in the wilderness in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan knew that the doctrine of 'blurring the lines' between parties was not an appropriate way to win elections.

"Unfortunately, the Republican Party today has decided to choose a candidate who more than blurs the lines, and there is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race. ... Republicans and conservatives around the country are sending an important message to the Republican establishment in their outstanding grassroots support for Doug Hoffman: no more politics as usual."

Follow Rebecca Sinderbrand on Twitter: @sinderbrandrcnn

Filed under: Bill Owens • Dede Scozzafava • GOP
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. New Yorker

    Hoffman's the man. Vote him in folks and show the rest of the country we are tired of thesame old politics.

    October 22, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  2. Jim in San Jose

    But the best thing that could happen is that the blood red voters head for Hoffman while the disaffected moderates, realizing that Ms. Dede can't win, join Democrats in voting for Owens. At least they would get a candidate who will listen to everyone, not just those with money.

    October 22, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  3. Blaine in OH

    Why is the headline "GOP fault lines on display in NY-23"? Why is that important? The important thing is that Dede is a shady liberal, and as such, she doesn't represent the Republican platform or base. Why even vote for her? The Democratic candidate would be just as good, as that one would also be a shady liberal.

    October 22, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  4. The Real Tom Paine

    People who who don't know anything about this area need to know that the economy depends on some tourism, education, and the Fort Drum Military Reservation. This is a very conservative area, and the fact that the GOP and its Conservative fringe are feeding on each other is amazing to those of us who grew up in upstate. Half of the state's delegation to Congress was Republican 20 years ago: it will drop to just 2 seats if Owens wins.

    The times, they are a'changin

    October 22, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  5. Jackie in Dallas

    LOFLLLLLL!!! When did the words "legitimate principled candidate" EVER apply to a New York Republican in the last 50 years???

    October 22, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  6. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, North Carolina

    A decade or so ago, a bunch of bible-thumping thieves, the neo-cons, stole the Republican Party from real Conservatives. The neo-cons promptly repudiated the substance of everything the Republican Party once stood for–small government, fiscal restraint, and individual liberty–and kept only cynical claims to those principles.

    So long as the neo-cons go on alienating the real Conservatives, they're just going to keep handing elections to Democrats.

    October 22, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  7. Mike in MN

    Conservatives won't back RINOs anymore. If a RINO can win in the primary and get enough votes to win, more power to them. But they won't get any help from conservatives. Many like myself no longer identify as Republican's. We identify as independent conservatives. I'll vote for the candidate who best represents my conservative values, even if that happens to be a Blue Dog Democrat over a RINO.

    October 22, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  8. Wheat

    Is this just the first in a run of 3rd party candidates making a real run at office in the next election cycle? The big parties better wake up.

    October 22, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  9. Bill

    GOP is a Useless Party.

    GOP is Junk.

    October 22, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  10. sutton

    I live in the district right next to this onr and have seen the commercials that have flooded the airwaves and I can tell you that this is one of the nastiest campaigns that I have ever seen.

    What most people don't seem to realize is that the last Republican to hold this seat was not a conservative, but in fact a moderate. That dying breed within the Republican Party. Considering the choices that now face the voters in that district the Democrat is the best choice for the voters.

    It is a very sad day when you cannot find a Moderate Republican, because the Republican Party has tossed them all aside. It they had found such a person to run for this seat they would not be having the problem that they are facing now.

    October 22, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  11. Mike in MN

    I disagree with Newt on his point that in order to take power back from the Democrats, conservatives may need to support what I call RINOs. A bunch of RINOs in Washington won't lead America in the right direction, they just slow down the pace in the wrong direction. Just like under Bush. I won't be a party to that anymore. It makes little difference if a liberal Democrat or a RINO wins. The only way to fix this country is to return power to true conservatives. That can't be done with RINOs. If a bunch of RINOs take power, nothing has been accomplished. Maybe there are not enough true conservatives in America to retake power. Or maybe it is just a matter of time before a large number of Americans become more conservative as they realize the the out of control tax and spend Democrats and RINOs are leading us to fisical oblivion. In any case, I am standing my ground.

    October 22, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  12. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Dick Cheney is now the new leader of the Republican Party.

    October 22, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  13. If Republiklan neo-cons represent “christian” values and they will spend Eternity in Heaven, then my only inquiry to St. Peter will be, “Where is the down escalator?”

    Ah, yes the Fable Followers vs. the Godless.

    This time we will have a ring side seat while "christians" rip into the Romans!

    My hope lies with the Romans, but remember the "christians" have god on their side and are gun totin' Mericuns and they are on a mission to "remove the weeds from the Garden"!

    October 22, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  14. Dave

    Where is Palin ???

    Oh!! – She is busy writing a Book. Therefore not Talking these days.

    She should write more Books, at least we will not have to hear her Garbage Talking......................

    October 22, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  15. Jay1975

    What a lot of people don't understand is that the so called "moderate" Republicans are the coporate boot lickers that play off the religious card while spending our money like Sailors on shore leave. True conservatives (very few of them exist in DC) are getting sick of these neo-cons who have hijacked the party. Bush was the polar opposite of a conservative, but he tricked a lot of us in 2000, and apparently just enough in 2004. The unfortunate fact is, that since this hijacking took place, true conservatives are the RINO's and the neo-cons own the party. Where is the candidate that stands for a strong defense (not offense), limited government that governs by the Constitution, with that you can lower taxes as you end so many governmental waste programs, lead by example when it comes to values, not legislation and just simply obey the Constitution and stop impeding on the rights of the people and the states. If a person followed these principles, rather than just talk about them, they have my vote, regardless of party.

    October 22, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  16. diridi

    obvious...Dick Cheney is totally an idiot...and so are John Bhoener, Rush limbaugh, etc, and Mitch mcconnol...too....they find humiliating defeat like 2008 obama elections...370/140?????electoral votes...shame..idiots...no moral..no ethics, no standards...idiots will do for money and power...now they want obama to send more troops to Afganistan.....of course he is smart...still thinking thoroughly...ok..pres. obama is doing great job so far...i don't care poll...Glen Beck is an idito...like Fox news...just remove from your TV save money...

    October 22, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  17. Kevin in Ohio

    We need to take our country back from the liberals. And we cannot do this by electing a republican who gets support from ACORN. Vote true conservative..... Hoffman.

    October 22, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  18. ben

    GOP, the 2006 & 2008 elections should have been your wake up call to look around and realize America is headed more to the center of the political spectrum. The GOP needs to do the same by adapting to the national change in what Americans want on the political landscape. Maybe that's why only 20% of people admit they are part of the Republi-cant's!!! The failed right wing policies of yesterday are going out the door so say bye bye to corporate welfare and government handouts to rich people!!

    October 22, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  19. m smith

    Just what we need another bunch of far right nuts. Will they never go away????

    October 22, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |