- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2009

WATERTOWN, N.Y. | Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said the New York special congressional election, which is roiling after the Republican nominee pulled out and endorsed the Democrat, will be a chance for voters to send a message that the Republican Party has become too extreme.

Meanwhile, Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman urged residents to show that they won’t tolerate runaway spending and overgrowth of government by sending an outsider to Congress.

To the chagrin of some residents who say party labels take a back seat to jobs and protecting the local military base, Washington has seized on the contest as a referendum on national issues — chief among them the future of the Republican Party.

Mr. Biden, speaking at a rally here for Democrat Bill Owens, cited the withdrawal of Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava over the weekend as proof that the “most extreme wing” of the party won’t tolerate dissent.

“I say to all those moderate Republicans … join us, we welcome you,” Mr. Biden said. “Join us in teaching a lesson to those absolutists.”

Indeed, the race is likely to be decided by former Scozzafava backers. A Siena College poll released Monday gives Mr. Hoffman a five-point lead over Mr. Owens at 41 percent to 36 percent, with 18 percent of voters undecided. The poll of 606 likely voters had a margin of error of four percentage points.

The state assemblywoman — who has bucked the party on abortion, gay marriage, union “card check” legislation and the economic stimulus bill — endorsed Mr. Owens on Sunday, while Republican leaders in Washington threw their support behind Mr. Hoffman. Her name sparked tremendous applause among Owens supporters gathered at the North Side Improvement League.

“We don’t want to go back to the failed Bush economic agenda and ideological approach to governing,” Mr. Owens said. “It’s clear that my opponent has come to embrace the latter.”

His Democratic supporters decried outsider involvement in the political affairs of this quaint town 30 miles south of the Canadian border.

“We don’t take kindly when others come in and say nasty, untrue things about us. How dare they,” said June O’Neill, vice chairwoman of the New York Democratic Party. “We’re going to send them a message tomorrow. They’re going to see a giant ‘not for sale’ sign in our yards.”

Mrs. Scozzafava’s nomination this summer caused a backlash among conservative Republicans who split with the party to support Mr. Hoffman. His upstart campaign drew endorsements from dozens of high-profile Republicans, including former New York Gov. George E. Pataki, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He also attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds from groups such as the conservative Club for Growth, which sponsored TV ads in favor of the accountant.

“This is just really a message to the Republican Party. They crossed a line they shouldn’t have crossed,” said former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado Republican, who is in town with volunteers from the Susan B. Anthony List campaigning for Mr. Hoffman. “What is happening in [New York’s 23rd Congressional District] is going to cause some liberals in our party to sweat.”

At a get-out-the-vote rally Monday night, Mr. Hoffman said he’ll be a vote against Democrats’ plans.

“I’m going to make sure we stop the Nancy Pelosi agenda,” he said, drawing the loudest cheers of the night when he said he would oppose Democrats’ health care reform bill.

Leading the rally were former Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, and John Rich of the country music duo Big and Rich. Mr. Thompson said a Hoffman victory would “shake the foundations of Washington,” and took a swipe at Mr. Biden.

“The vice president’s job is to attend funerals. Maybe he was here a day early, I don’t know,” he said.

The race turned nasty on the last full day of campaigning.

Mr. Owens demanded that Mr. Hoffman denounce Rush Limbaugh, saying the radio talk-show host “sunk to a new low” after using what Mr. Owens said was offensive language to describe Mrs. Scozzafava’s actions this weekend.

Meanwhile, Mike Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, speculated Mrs. Scozzafava struck a deal with Democrats to leave the race and endorse the Democratic candidate. Mr. Long said he’ll ask the Federal Election Commission to investigate.

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