Doug Hoffman has gone from "tea party" pioneer to "tea party" outcast in less than a year.
The conservative accountant who in 2009 transformed a House special election in upstate New York into an unlikely struggle for the soul of the Republican Party finds himself more of an outsider than ever, as one-time tea party supporters Wednesday embraced GOP primary winner Matt Doheny over Mr. Hoffman to run against Democratic Rep. Bill Owens.
The steering committee of the Upstate New York Tea Party (UNYTEA), meeting in Plattsburgh, announced its support for Mr. Doheny, a 40-year-old Watertown businessman who narrowly edged out Mr. Hoffman in the Sept. 14 Republican primary.
While Mr. Hoffman in an interview insisted he remains the candidate of choice for tea party activists, the UNYTEA endorsement marks a dramatic turnabout from a year ago.
In the 2009 special House election, Mr. Hoffman rode a wave of tea party support and high-profile endorsements from the likes of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the Club for Growth to drive moderate Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava from the race. He went on to lose the special election to Mr. Owens, but the race was seen as the first salvo in a string of successful tea party revolts against "establishment" GOP candidates in primaries across the country.
UNYTEA Chairman Mark Barie has said he fears Mr. Hoffman could wind up splitting the conservative vote, handing the race to Mr. Owens in a district long dominated by the GOP.
"Doug Hoffman doesn't have an ice cube's chance in hell of winning this election," Mr. Barie argued in a note to supporters late last week. "A vote for him is a vote for Bill Owens."
Mr. Hoffman, who remains on the ballot as the candidate of the state's Conservative Party, dismissed Wednesday's tea party endorsement.
"I don't believe that Mark Barie is the tea party movement. And I think we still have the backing of tea party individuals all across the district,” he told The Washington Times.
Mr. Hoffman said he has the funding and the support to run a winning campaign despite the results of the Sept. 14 primary. "I'm not in this just to keep my name out there," he said.
Mr. Hoffman, a millionaire accountant from Saranac Lake, said the national attention generated by his long-shot 2009 campaign helped him create a brand that voters respect. "People out there know what I stand for," he said. He has criticized Mr. Doheny as another moderate "RINO" a "Republican in name only."
"He supported Scozzafava, and now that he's running himself, he's trying to profess that he's a conservative. People know who the real conservative is,” Mr. Hoffman said.
But Mr. Doheny's conservative credentials he has pledged to vote to repeal President Obama's health care reform, opposes government stimulus spending and is pro-life were enough to earn endorsements from GOP leaders in all 11 counties in the district.
Mr. Barie said 10 of the 12 members of the UNYTEA steering committee also backed Mr. Doheny, with another now leaning toward the GOP candidate and the other still committed to Mr. Hoffman.
Mr. Barie predicted a rough road ahead for Mr. Hoffman as a third-party candidate.
"Without the energy provided by tea party volunteers and backers," Mr. Barie said, “There's nothing left of the Hoffman campaign."
Mr. Barie said people in the district aren't happy with Rep. Owens, who voted for health care reform, and are determined to send a message to Washington.
"People are so angry," he said. “There is such a deep-seated concern about the spending and the deficit."
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