NEW YORK-A third-party candidate is surging in upstate New York, riding a swelling conservative distaste for liberal Republicans and, his supporters say, sending a message to the Republican Party.
New York's 23rd congressional district winner will replace Republican John McHugh, President Obama's appointed Secretary of the Army. The district should have easily gone to Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava but many conservatives, wary of Scozzafava's support of same-sex marriage and her Margaret Sanger award from Planned Parenthood, have thrown their weight behind Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. In the last few weeks, he's built national and grassroots support-and also has raked in cash.
Both social and fiscal conservatives have backed Hoffman, including American Values president Gary Bauer, the Club for Growth, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. This past weekend, former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum tapped Hoffman as his choice, with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty following suit. Prominent Republicans Steve Forbes and Fred Thompson, the National Organization for Marriage, and the Concerned Women for America PAC have all backed him, too. In the New York Post's endorsement of Hoffman, it called Scozzafava "the product of an obscenely corrupt political bargain by GOP bosses that sells out their party-and New Yorkers generally."
Hoffman raised over $116,000 the day Palin endorsed him, while Scozzafava has lost financial momentum. In the latest Federal Election Commission report of donations over $1,000-filed every 48 hours-Democratic candidate Bill Owens has raised $73,100, Hoffman has collected $43,100, and Scozzafava has picked up only $2,000.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now taking note, dubbing Hoffman the "darling of right wing Republicans" and blasting him as an out-of-touch millionaire with a waterfront island home, a classic car collection, and a plan that includes "tax breaks for the wealthy."
An October 11-13 Siena College poll put Owens in the lead with 33 percent of the vote, Scozzafava at 29 percent, and Hoffman at 23 percent. A Club for Growth poll later found a small lead for Hoffman, and another conservative group-Minuteman PAC-also found Hoffman up by 5 points.
Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has opposed the Hoffman movement, telling Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren that conservatives' excitement about Hoffman is based "largely on misinformation" and that if Hoffman takes away enough votes to elect Owens, it will strengthen Speaker Nancy Pelosi instead of the conservative movement. He defended Scozzafava as "adequately conservative" for upstate New York, but he added that there is "no question" Scozzafava is liberal on social issues.
But conservative leaders like Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, see this as a test run for next year-an ultimatum to the GOP: "This has come at a particular tipping point in politics right now. On the one hand, Obama's policies are worrying conservatives; on the other, you have "a Republican party that can't see itself finding a candidate that . . . can counter those policies at a time when the country-and especially districts like this-are reacting strongly to Obama's policies."
Their purpose, said Dannenfelser, is "to stand up and say, 'There is a line, Republican Party, that we will not cross, and in this race you have crossed it.'" She added, even if Owens wins, "it will be a message that the Republican Party need not do this again."
According to Dannenfelser, this is the first time the Susan B. Anthony List has endorsed a third-party candidate: "I've never made a move like this but when you do it, you better mean it. If you're gonna shoot a bear you'd better kill it." So organization is spending an estimated $350,000 to support Hoffman, is sponsoring 800 radio spots, has hit its goal of 100 volunteers, and is pushing for 250 volunteers to distribute 4,000 yard signs, pass out 80,000 pieces of comparison literature, and man the 75 largest Republican precincts on Election Day.
This also is the first time that the Catholic Families for America PAC has endorsed a third-party candidate, said executive director Kevin Roberts. But he said it wasn't an agonizing decision: "It was a no-brainer."