A Three-Way Special Election In NY-23?

The upcoming NY-23 special election, caused by the resignation of GOP Rep. John McHugh when he became President Obama’s Secretary of the Army, could very well turn into a genuine three-way race — and the right-wing Club For Growth appear ready to help make it happen.

The issue here is that a lot of conservatives are looking at the Republican nominee, state Rep. Dede Scozzafava, and seeing a big liberal — she’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and is somewhat supportive of labor unions. New York has a separate Conservative Party — which normally thrives under New York’s fusion voting system — and they now have their own candidate, accountant Doug Hoffman.

The Club has released a new poll that finds some potential for a Hoffman candidacy. The poll asks this question: “Would you prefer your next member of Congress be a liberal Democrat, a liberal Republican, or a Conservative Party candidate who would align himself with Republicans in Congress?” The result: Conservative 36.3%, liberal Democrat 30.7%, and liberal Republican 17.7%.The poll also tests a three-way race with the named candidates, and finds it to be really up in the air: Scozzafava 20.3%, Democrat Bill Owens 17.3%, and Hoffman 17.0%.

The Club’s pollster includes an analysis, which sounds like an opening shot in a three-way campaign: “Dede Scozzafava’s liberal record that includes support for card check legislation, Gov. Paterson’s budget and President Obama’s stimulus bill makes her very vulnerable.”

So how are the parties preparing for the prospect of a genuine three-way race, should Hoffman gain any real support.

“Will be very interesting to watch Owens’ competitors fight it out/split their base,” a Democratic source told us. “Seems like there could be a real opening for Owens to consolidate his base and focus on the middle.”

And a Republican source suggested that Scozzafava will be presented as the candidate of the broad, sensible middle: “The Conservative Party line is a significant presence on the ballot. The key to victory for the campaign will be to frame the candidate as the only voice of moderation and independence on the ballot. People are fed up with Washington and are tired of party labels, which provides the campaign with an opportunity.”

Hoffman has rolled out a new ad, but it doesn’t appear to be on TV at this time, as his Web site is currently asking for money to help put it on the air. (Nobody picked up the phone at his campaign, when I attempted to check.) The ad says Scozzafava is masquerading as a Reagan conservative — comparing her to an Elvis impersonator or a frumpy old man in a Superman costume:

A lot of crazy things could happen in a race like this. Scozzafava could be pushed to the right, or she could stay right where she is and pitch herself as the candidate of the middle. Owens could win from a split right-wing vote — or maybe even Hoffman could win from a split liberal vote, which famously happened in the 1970 New York Senate race, when Conservative James Buckley beat a liberal Dem and moderate Republican.

Keep an eye on this one — it could get crazy.

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