- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2009

Doug Hoffman’s insurgent campaign in New York’s special House race, which had already split national Republican leaders, is now turning into a litmus test for other Republican congressional candidates running in 2010 to prove their conservative credentials.

Liz Lauber, running in the Republican primary for a House seat in Missouri, this week made support for Mr. Hoffman a campaign issue, calling on five-term Republican incumbent Rep. Todd Akin to endorse and donate money to the Conservative Party nominee who is running in a special election Nov. 3.

Mr. Akin did endorse Mr. Hoffman, though his office said it was not a response to Mrs. Lauber’s challenge but rather to calls received from constituents asking where the congressman stood on the race.

“The New York special election is becoming a referendum for the heart and soul of the Republican Party across the country,” said Mrs. Lauber, a former congressional staffer. “I stepped up to the plate and threw my support [behind Mr. Hoffman] because I’m listening here to what people are saying at home.”

Mr. Hoffman’s Conservative Party challenge to Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava, a moderate who favors the stimulus bill, abortion rights and gay marriage, in the upstate New York district has roiled the Republican Party, exposing a rift between the party establishment and the so-called “tea party” anti-tax movement. The seat is vacant after nine-term Republican Rep. John M. McHugh was named secretary of the Army by President Obama earlier this year.

Once the front-runner in the Republican-leaning district, Mrs. Scozzafava is now trailing both Democrat Bill Owens and Mr. Hoffman, according to two recent polls commissioned by conservative groups who support Mr. Hoffman.

A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which backs Mrs. Scozzafava, would not comment when asked whether the House Republican campaign arm is concerned that support for Mr. Hoffman’s candidacy could become a litmus test in 2010 races.

Akin spokesman Steve Taylor said it would be difficult to surpass the lawmaker when it comes to conservative credentials - he has a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union and has routinely voted to limit the size of government.

Mr. Hoffman may be the first to test tea-party power, but he is not the only candidate courting the bloc of anti-government activists in a challenge to the party establishment heading in to the 2010 midterm elections.

In Florida, Senate Republican hopeful Marco Rubio, a former speaker of the state House, is challenging Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, who angered many in the party with his public support for the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package. In Ohio, conservative challenger David Ryon is running on the Constitution Party ticket in a race with incumbent Democratic Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy and state Sen. Steve Stivers, a Republican.

Mr. Hoffman has won several high-profile endorsements, including from former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. He is being attacked from both sides: The NRCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee e-mailed reporters the same local news article Wednesday linking Mr. Hoffman to a congressional earmark.

In a sign of Mr. Hoffman’s growing support, Democrats appear to feel more threatened by him than Mrs. Scozzafava.

In a new TV ad, a group called Accountable America attempts to link Mr. Hoffman to the Wall Street financial crisis. The liberal group MoveOn.org e-mailed its supporters Wednesday asking for money to defeat Mr. Hoffman, who it said represents “tea-baggers and hate groups.”

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