NY-23 Special Election Splitting The Right

October 15, 2009 1:58 p.m.

The upcoming special election in NY-23, a swing seat that had been held securely by Republican Congressman John McHugh until his appointment as President Obama’s Secretary of the Army, is seriously threatening to divide the right — and Democrats stand to benefit.

The new Siena poll finds Democrat Bill Owens taking a narrow 33%-29% lead over Republican state Rep. Dede Scozzafava — with Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman not far behind, with 23%. Hoffman has been endorsed by the Club For Growth, Family Research Council Action PAC, Fred Thompson and other conservatives, who refuse to back Scozzafava over her various socially liberal stances.

In addition, The Hill reports that only 17 House Republicans have donated to Scozzafava.

TPM asked the NRCC whether they would commit to continue supporting Scozzafava, even if Hoffman were to overtake her as the chief opponent to Owens. They declined to comment on their strategy.Interestingly, the Siena poll showed Owens gaining five points since the previous poll, Scozzafava losing six points, and Hoffman gaining seven — creating the possibility that some voters could be going directly from the Republican to the Conservative.

“I think it shows the trends that are taking place in the district. We’re moving up, Dede Scozzafava is moving down.” said Hoffman spokesman Robert Ryan, in an interview with TPM. “If you look at the votes she lost and votes we picked up, it’s pretty obvious people to the right of center, Reagan republicans, traditional Republicans, are moving away from her and over to the Hoffman campaign.”

Ryan cited Scozzafava’s positions on gay marriage, abortion — “it’s not that she’s just pro abortion but she’s very, very pro-abortion” — and her past votes for big-spending state budgets and tax increases, as positions that make her unsupportable. “There were over 40 Democratic legislators who had a more conservative voting record than she did,” said Ryan. “That speak volumes.”

When asked about the report of conservative House GOPers refusing to support Scozzafava, Ryan was quite blunt: “I think the best thing that Dede Scozzafava could do for the Republican Party right now is to cease campaigning.”

Scozzafava spokesman Matt Burns shot back. “The fact is that Doug Hoffman can’t win, period. He cannot win. He is unelectable,” said Burns. “Not to mention that people are going to realize, the more they know about him, they’ll realize he is unable to keep his word.” He later added: “A vote for Doug Hoffman is a vote for Nancy Pelosi.”

On the support that Scozzafava has (and has not) received from House GOPers, Burns said: “We appreciate the support that our campaign continues to receive from the voters across the 23rd Congressional District and elsewhere.”

Burns explained that Scozzafava’s approach to politics is as a sensible, representative voice for her district, who can attract support from a wide variety of people.

“I think first and foremost, what people need to realize about Dede is that Dede isn’t beholden to just party labels,” said Burns. “She enjoys support from across the political spectrum, she provides principled political leadership, and she represents the district she’s seeking office in. She sees government’s role as being representative of the people. You’re supposed to the listen to the people you represent. So Dede for example, enjoys the support of the New York State United Teachers — that is a 30,000-member union that has teachers, educators, librarians. You go down the list, Dede is also endorsed by the National Rifle Association. So she fits the district — it’s a working class district — and that’s why she’s gonna be successful come November 3.”

Calls placed to the Owens campaign were not returned.

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