The prospect of a tea-party effect has both parties eyeing next month’s special election in upstate New York as Democrats and Republicans alike try to gauge the fallout from the anti-government fervor that swept the nation this summer.
Doug Hoffman, a conservative running as a third-party candidate, is adding intrigue to the race to replace Republican Rep. John M. McHugh by trying to tap the electorate’s anger and overcome long odds to upset the establishment candidates, Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava and Democrat Bill Owens.
Mr. Hoffman’s message is simple: no more bailouts, no more tax increases and no more trillion-dollar deficits.
“People are fed up with the two major parties, and they want someone who’s going to take some action,” said Hoffman spokesman Rob Ryan. He says “anger, anger and anger” over both parties is giving the Conservative Party candidate legs and double-digit polling numbers.
Mrs. Scozzafava’s camp dismisses criticism of her conservative credentials as largely irrelevant, stressing that the bottom line is that she can win. The most recent Siena poll of likely voters had her in the lead at 35 points compared with 28 for Mr. Owens and 16 for Mr. Hoffman.
“If conservatives at the end of the day are looking for a viable candidate who is going to vote to have [Minority Leader] John Boehner be speaker of the House, she’s a vote for John Boehner,” spokesman Matt Burns said, noting that Mr. Boehner has said he would work to appoint her to the Armed Services Committee if elected — a coveted seat in a district that includes Fort Drum.
For its part, Mr. Owens’ campaign appears content to sit back and watch his opponents duke it out for the seat Mr. McHugh vacated to become President Obama’s Army secretary.
“We’re focused on what it is we are doing, and that is talking to voters about Bill’s record of job creation and what he can do for upstate New York as a member of Congress,” said spokesman Jon Boughtin said.
Endorsements in the three-way contest cut across party lines, underscoring the differences between the candidates as much as the anti-government push-back that’s benefiting Mr. Hoffman. The House Republican leadership, along with the party’s campaign arms, is backing Mrs. Scozzafava, who also received perhaps-unwelcome support from the founder of the Daily Kos, a liberal political blog.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hoffman counts former senator and Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson and the conservative Club for Growth among his supporters. In addition, RedState.com, the influential right-wing blog, has slammed Mrs. Scozzafava for her past involvement with the state’s Working Families Party, which has ties to the controversial community group ACORN.
The National Republican Congressional Committee bristles at Mr. Hoffman’s campaign, with a spokesman arguing that he’s “running a smoke-and-mirrors campaign that has absolutely no path to victory and is based entirely on Washington-based endorsements that carry no weight among voters in central and northern New York.”
NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said Mr. Hoffman doesn’t even technically live in the district and also said Mr. Hoffman had promised to back the Republican candidate before withdrawing that support and deciding to run.
“At the end of the day, we could not be more pleased that Dede is the only candidate who possesses the principles and cross-party appeal that is needed to win in this swing district,” Mr. Lindsay added.
Indeed, Mrs. Scozzafava is getting hit from all sides. A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said attempts to “repackage her candidacy as fiscally responsible are failing miserably.”
“Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava has in fact voted to raise or extend taxes 190 times and secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in earmarks while serving in Albany,” Shripal Shah said.
It’s unclear to what extent the New York race could provide a glimpse of what’s to come in districts where anti-government sentiment, particularly over fiscal and spending issues, is often aimed at Republicans as much as Democrats. Mark Barie, founder of the local Upstate New York Tea Party, said “there’s a great deal of concern, and it cuts across party lines.”
“This message of less taxes and less government and less spending resonates widely, especially with the seniors, especially with young families,” Mr. Barie said. “They’re scared out of their mind that by the time they’re going to retire there’s nothing left.”
Mr. Barie’s group, which formed about three weeks ago, held a candidates forum this past weekend that drew 200 people. Mrs. Scozzafava and Mr. Hoffman were there; Mr. Owens’ campaign canceled at the last minute, citing a scheduling conflict. While the tea-party group is not endorsing a candidate in the race, Mr. Barie said he personally prefers Mr. Hoffman’s positions on the issues.
“He should get up and say like he did last night, ‘Look at me, I am not a politician, I can’t do the banter like a seasoned professional can; I’m just like you — I’m a father, I’m a grandfather, I’m a businessman, I’m a CPA, and this doesn’t make sense,” he said.