NEW YORK | Liberal Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava stunned the New York political world Saturday by announcing the suspension of her campaign for the state’s 23rd Congressional District three days before the election.
The surprise move leaves New York Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, with no prior political experience but a strongly conservative stance on virtually all issues, as the sole competitor against businessman and lawyer Bill Owens, the state Democratic Party’s nominee, in a race most polls say is too close to call.
“It’s an immense victory for the Conservative Party,” a jubilant Mike Long, the state party’s longtime chairman and a powerhouse in New York politics, told The Washington Times. “It shows the GOP gave courage to other Republicans to make the move to Hoffman against their own party’s nominee.”
“In the beginning no one believed we could prevail, and nearly everyone accused us of being spoilers,” Mr. Long told The Times. “But we were given the opportunity to help take back the country for the taxpayers, beginning with the 9/12 movement and the anti-spending ‘tea parties.’ ”
According to a Siena Research Institute poll released Saturday, Mrs. Scozzafava had 20 percent of the vote in the upstate New York district, trailing Mr. Owens (36 percent) and Mr. Hoffman (35 percent).
Mrs. Scozzafava’s breaks with the Republican Party on thorny issues such as abortion, card-check labor legislation and the economic stimulus bill had been rapidly driving supporters to Mr. Hoffman’s upstart campaign.
Mr. Long attributed the shift of Republicans to the Conservative Party first to the endorsement of Mr. Hoffman by American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene, whose opinion carries weight with conservative Republicans around the country, then to the embrace of Mr. Hoffman by Jeri Thompson, wife of former Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, followed by support from Mr. Thompson himself and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a small but loyal coterie of conservative Republican activists around the country.
Then, in a surprise move, former New York Gov. George E. Pataki showed up at a Conservative Party fundraiser at the New York Athletic Club on Thursday evening to announce his support for Mr. Hoffman. Mr. Pataki thus became the first major New York Republican to break with his party and go for the Conservative Party candidate - and to signal to other New York Republicans that it was all right to break ranks.
Mr. Long said that broke the back of the Scozzafava campaign.
“Let’s send a message to [Senate Majority leader Harry] Reid and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi,” Mr. Pataki told several hundred donors at a New York Conservative Party cocktail fundraiser.
Instead of holding a primary election, Republican contenders interviewed with the 23rd District’s Republican county chairmen, who picked Mrs. Scozzafava despite her liberal and labor union affiliations. Their reasoning was that she had name recognition as a state assemblywoman that her rivals did not.
Mrs. Scozzafava had the endorsement of the left-wing New York Working Families Party.
In a move that perplexed many of his conservative supporters, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had endorsed Mrs. Scozzafava, arguing that conservatives had to win seats by electing Republicans to Congress as a first requisite to conservatives winning power and being able to stop the liberal juggernaut led by President Obama and the Democratic Senate and House majorities in Congress.
On Saturday, Mr. Gingrich released a statement throwing his support to Mr. Hoffman.
“The age of party leaders picking people is over,” Mr. Gingrich said.