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Later Saturday, Mr. Gingrich, in response to a question from The Washington Times as to why he endorsed the liberal Republican first and had now switched to the Conservative Party candidate - whether he first put party over principle and now is reverting to his longtime view that principle comes first - said, “I did not put party over principle. There was an issue of two principles.”

“First, always endorse the more conservative, and second, respect local leaders and local decisions,” Mr. Gingrich said. “When the 11 local county chairs unanimously endorsed someone after four public meetings, I did not think it was my place to repudiate the entire local party leadership.”

He said Mr. Hoffman’s “rise is a result of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox News, the Club for Growth, Gov. [Sarah] Palin and [Minnesota Gov. Tim] Pawlenty and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and virtually the entire national conservative movement joining with Mike Long, whose Conservative Party, a very established organization, which won its first big race 39 years ago.”

“This was not an isolated amateur; this is an entire movement.” Mr. Gingrich said.

In a letter to supporters, Mrs. Scozzafava explained that in “recent days, polls have indicated that my chances of winning this election are not as strong as we would like them to be. … The reality that I’ve come to accept is that in today’s political arena, you must be able to back up your message with money - and as I’ve been outspent on both sides, I’ve been unable to effectively address many of the charges that have been made about my record.”

She did not, however, endorse Mr. Hoffman - or Mr. Owens, for that matter - saying instead that her supporters were free to go their own way.

“It’s time for us to send a message to Washington: We’re sick and tired of big-spending, high-taxing, career politicians and by voting for me on Tuesday you will send that message loud and clear,” Mr. Hoffman said in a statement reacting to the news.

Mr. Owens praised Mrs. Scozzafava, blasting Mr. Hoffman and his conservative supporters.

“Voters have a clear choice on Tuesday: They can elect to go back to the George Bush economic agenda, or they can vote to move forward. Doug Hoffman and the Club for Growth’s extremist agenda won’t do a thing to get our economy moving again,” he said.

Despite previously attacking Mr. Hoffman, Republican leaders on Saturday encouraged residents of the 23rd District to vote for him.

“He is the only active candidate in the race who supports lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and opposes Nancy Pelosi’s agenda of government-run health care, more government and less jobs. We look forward to welcoming Doug Hoffman into the House Republican Conference as we work together for the good of our nation,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Minority Whip Eric Cantor and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said in a joint statement.

“This is both a tribute to the power of the national conservative movement to define an issue and a commentary on the populist anger against politics as usual,” Mr. Gingrich said in a statement Saturday. “The New York [Republican Party] has now had two troubled special elections, and it is clear they should go to a primary nominating system so everyone would feel it was fair and open.”

“I am endorsing Hoffman and believe everyone who wants to create jobs with lower taxes and to control spending and deficits should vote for Hoffman Tuesday,” Mr. Gingrich said in his belated switch.

Mr. Hoffman spent Saturday campaigning with Mr. Pataki, while Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is hosting a rally on behalf of Mr. Owens on Monday.