Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Last year’s underdog became this year’s front-runner Tuesday when Doug Hoffman - whose 2009 congressional race became a rallying cry for the “tea party” movement - announced he would seek the Republican nomination in New York’s 23rd District.

Mr. Hoffman’s Conservative Party campaign last fall in the upstate district ignited grass-roots supporters, but fell 4,000 votes short of an upset victory in the three-way special election won by Bill Owens, who became the first Democrat to represent the district in decades.

“I’m just an average citizen, standing up to say, ‘We’re fed up. We’re not going to take this any more,’ ” Mr. Hoffman told The Washington Times in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I don’t think anybody should expect to inherit political office … . I’m going to work very hard to earn the respect and support of all the voters in the district.”

An accountant from Saranac Lake, Mr. Hoffman became the first Republican to officially declare his candidacy in the largely rural 23rd Congressional District, which sprawls across upstate New York from Lake Ontario on the west to the Vermont border on the east.

Several other potential candidates, including Assemblyman William Barclay, have expressed interest in entering the Sept. 14 Republican primary, but a January survey by pollster John McLaughlin found support for Mr. Hoffman among more than 70 percent of the district’s Republican voters.

In a statement to the Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Press Republican, a spokesman for Mr. Owens said, “There is a time and place for politics, and Congressman Owens’s main focus is to create more jobs in upstate New York and help our local economies grow.”

Mr. Hoffman’s Conservative Party campaign last fall became a nationwide crusade after party leaders backed state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, whose liberal record angered conservatives bloggers, such as Erick Erickson and Michelle Malkin. Republican 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and the Club For Growth were among those who endorsed Mr. Hoffman.

As polls showed a Hoffman surge in the final weeks of the race, Mrs. Scozzafava quit the campaign and shocked Republicans by endorsing Mr. Owens, who won with a 48 percent plurality.

Mr. Hoffman’s supporters immediately began urging him to run again, with House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence praising his “brilliant” campaign.

Mr. Hoffman has reassembled most of his 2009 campaign team, including Mr. McLaughlin’s polling firm and TV advertising specialist Nelson Warfield, and begins with more than $200,000 in campaign cash remaining from last year.

Mr. Hoffman used his Facebook online network to announce his 2010 candidacy to supporters Monday night

His campaign also sent e-mail announcements to more than 20,000 contributors and supporters, said communications director Rob Ryan, another veteran of last year’s Hoffman team.

Being the front-runner this year is “scary, because now everybody’s going to be throwing rocks at me,” Mr. Hoffman said Tuesday, while en route to a campaign stop in Amsterdam, N.Y. “I do know there are a lot of grass-roots supporters around the district who still have [Hoffman for Congress] signs in their basements, and they’re itching to get them back out.”

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