A New Conservative Star Wrestles With the Spotlight

By
Tuesday, November 03, 2009 at 9:12 am
Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman's final pre-election day speech (David Weigel)

Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman's final pre-election day speech (David Weigel)

WATERTOWN, N.Y. – Fred Thompson sounded like he was about to choke up. The former Tennessee senator and current conservative radio host, one of the first national political figures to endorse Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, was introducing his candidate at the final pre-election day rally on Monday night.

“Thank goodness we still have that American spirit, from the very beginning of our founding, personified in this man,” said Thompson, “who came from nowhere, when no one gave him a chance, and just said ‘I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do the right thing for my country.’ The strength of his courage and what he did and what he’s doing is going to carry us through.” Thompson’s voice quavered a little bit. “It’s going to make him a great congressman.”

[GOP1] With that, a roaring crowd of conservatives were re-introduced to Hoffman. The crowd numbered more than 400, somewhere around twice the size of the one at Democratic candidate Bill Owens’s mid-morning rally with Vice President Joe Biden. The walls of the small event hall in the Watertown Fairground were festooned with “Don’t Tread On Me” and “Liberty or Death” signs; supporters waved placards that read “Save Our Country, Vote Hoffman” and “THANK YOU: John Rich, Fred Thompson, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck.”

It all led up to a political speech that was notable largely for its meekness. As Hoffman shifted his weight from side to side and glanced down at his notes, he tossed out only two pieces of red meat — an attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a promise not to let government “take over health care.” With the rest of his time — less than four minutes — Hoffman talked broadly about bringing jobs back to the district. “I’m going to make sure that everything we can do for Fort Drum, we do it,” he said. “I’m going to make sure that, you know, Watertown, with new jobs, new businesses, and new economy, that’s going to carry us through for the next 20, 30, 50 years.” The second statement did not quite make sense, but the crowd roared its approval.

The final day of campaigning in NY-23 was a study in contrasting narratives. Democrats, bolstered by the 11th-hour endorsement of former GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava, hustled to argue that Hoffman was a product of right-wing political extremism with untested views. Conservatives and Republicans, giddy over a turn of events that has turned Hoffman from a gadfly candidate to an undisputed frontrunner, were already expecting victory on Tuesday and embracing this awkward, 59-year-old CPA as the the agent of a Democratic downfall. He was, as one activist at the Watertown rally put it, a “shot across the bow,” the embodiment of the Tea Party movement, a citizen politician whose insurgency would make the GOP honest. A Hoffman victory, said Jeri Thompson, if added to Republican wins in New Jersey and Virginia statewide elections, “would mean the Blue Dog Democrats stiffen their spines and say ‘no way, there’s no way we’re going to vote for health care.”

At the same time, Hoffman’s mellow nature, and his ability to avoid committing to specific conservative policies, have been the cause of amusement in the press corps and in the candidate’s own campaign. In a mid-October interview with TWI, Hoffman had strayed from the dogmatic conservative response to the stimulus–opposing it outright–and mulled over redirecting more stimulus funding to infrastructure and “job credits.” He gave the same response to another reporter. And another reporter told TWI that interview footage of Hoffman was so bland that it wasn’t worth using. After the Watertown rally, Sandy Caligoire, a Hoffman spokesman, argued that Hoffman’s lack of charisma had become a boon to the campaign.

“People look at Obama and they see how a slick politician can turn on them,” said Caligoire. “Doug’s a regular guy. He’s gotten better as the campaign’s gone on, but he’s a regular guy, and I think that appeals to people.”

The gap between Hoffman and his supporters seemed to widen from the beginning of the day to the final rally. In the morning, as Vice President Joe Biden rallied Democrats in Watertown by portraying Hoffman as the candidate of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and Tea Party activists, outside, two dozen Hoffman supporters lined the sidewalks with signs that attacked Owens as a “Pelosi puppet” and an agent of ACORN.

“I was at a Tea Party, but this is too slow a process for me,” said John Dewitt, a contractor from Adams, N.Y. “I’m more on the violence side. I’m more of the Civil War, revolutionary kind of guy. I’m of the old school–you kick them in the ass and be done with it.”

The Hoffman backers outside of the Biden event all said they’d attended Tea Parties. Some were affiliated with Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project. All worried that ACORN was going to show up in the district, or even at the Biden event–a paranoia that led to some minor awkwardness when an African-American Hoffman worker walked by.

“This guy’s with ACORN,” said Dewitt.

“Definitely, not from around here,” said businessman Erik Dunk.

Both men told TWI that they had doubts about President Obama’s religion and commitment to American values. Dewitt said that Obama definitely wasn’t a Christian; Dunk said that when Obama told an interviewer that America’s Muslim population could constitute one of the largest Islamic countries in the world, he changed the sign at his Harley-Davidson dealership to read “This is not a Muslim nation, and Obama is not a Christian.” He took down the sign, reluctantly, after a local university professor complained about it, and singled out the incident as a reason he was worried about losing his freedoms.

Inside the Biden event, Democrats ripped into Hoffman for having welcomed the support of right-wing activists–something Scozzafava herself criticized when she left the race. Again and again, Biden and Owens told the crowd that conservatives had given the voters of NY-23 an ideological candidate instead of a “pragmatic” candidate in the mold of former Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), who left the district when he became Secretary of the Army. While Scozzafava did not appear at the rally, her husband Ron McDougall did, and explained why the prospect of a Hoffman victory pushed him to endorse Owens.

“Hoffman doesn’t have a clue,” said McDougall, He cited a Watertown Daily Times interview with Hoffman–the newspaper reported that Hoffman was flummoxed by questions about funding for a few local projects–as proof that Hoffman didn’t really understand the district. “That speaks for itself. I know he’s not a seasoned politician. Bill Owens is not a seasoned politician, but he understands these issues, and he respects workers’ rights.”

But McDougall, not alone among Democrats, allowed some concern about the ability of labor unions to unite behind Owens. While members of SEIU 1199 were in force at the Watertown rally, the AFL-CIO did not make an endorsement until Scozzafava left the race. That cost Democrats valuable organizing resources while Hoffman was able to build a crusade of conservative activists.

Going into election day, pollsters have been thrown by the rapid-fire sequence of events that began with Scozzafada’s Saturday morning withdrawal from the race–a circus that’s led to what polling analyst Nate Silver called a “perfect storm of uncertainty.” The New York-based Siena Poll, considered the leading authority on the region, found Hoffman leading Owens by 5 points on Monday, with the Conservative Party consolidating Republican votes while Owens won Democrats and–narrowly–independents.

The reasons for Hoffman’s success are visible throughout the Watertown area. Dozens of pro-life activists have settled here–and in other urban centers–and adopted Hoffman as their own. The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, which got into the race to oppose the pro-abortion rights Scozzafava, and has eight full-time organizers embedded in the district, has produced its own literature and sample ballots for anti-abortion rights Hoffman. In the run-up to election day, hundreds of students of college age and younger have been tasked with handing that out and having conversations with voters to convince them to back the Conservative candidate. On Monday afternoon, around 24 of those activists took a break from the canvass stood on the intersection of State and Columbus in Watertown. They drew slogans on signboards, then hoisted them up for passing cars, bearing slogans like “Dede’s Out, Vote Hoffman” and “Vote for Life.”

“I prayed on Saturday morning for Doug Hoffman,” said James Flath. A student at Patrick Henry College, he was one of many organizers for Generation Joshua, a pro-home schooling group whose younger members worked with older students to get out the vote. “That was the day that Scozzafava dropped out. I passed up a five-day weekend to be here–I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”

As Flath spoke, an array of hyped-up kids waved their signs and screamed whenever a car honked–which was often. “Vote for Hoffman!” yelled a young activist named Colin Zweigle, who flashed rock and roll “devil horns” at everyone who honked. “I’ll give you love, America!”

Throughout it all, the candidate himself stayed demure. At a meet-and-greet at a VFW hall, Hoffman posed for photos, signed autographs on beer coasters, and had variations of the same conversation with staunch supporters.

“How much will that coaster be worth when you run for president?” asked one supporter.

“Oh,” said Hoffman. “Thanks!” When Republican activist Bart Bonner pulled Hoffman aside to tell him how proud he was of Hoffman for “kicking ass,” Hoffman smiled sheepishly. “Don’t get too angry!”

But as Hoffman had bemused conversations, Fred Thompson told them the NY-23 race was “important to America,” and that “everyone is watching what happens here.” In a quick interview with TWI, Hoffman, obviously buoyed from the support of his newfound conservative movement supporters, Hoffman remained low-key. While multiple Hoffman volunteers had told TWI they were worried about ACORN interfering in the election–his own campaign has charged that ACORN will try to steal the election in northeastern Clinton County–Hoffman only said that he’d been “too busy” to notice what they were up to, although he knew they were “on the ground.” Asked to respond to the vice president’s charge that he wouldn’t be able to make any decisions that offended Rush Limbaugh, Hoffman shrugged and reached for his talking points.

“Well, I started this race a long time before Rush started talking about me,” he said. “I’m a common sense conservative and a Reagan Republican, and common sense says you don’t spend money you don’t have, and high taxes kill jobs and stifle business growth and jobs.”

Later in the day, Hoffman fielded another question about Limbaugh from Jude Seymour of the Watertown Daily Times. Asked whether he agreed with Limbaugh’s remarks that Scozzafava had committed “beastiality” by “screwing every RINO (Republican in Name Only),” Hoffman was taken aback. “I’d have to talk with him first,” he said. “I don’t know–that’s Rush Limbaugh. I have no comment to that.” Conservative reporters immediately chastised Seymour for asking the question.

Those questions aren’t quite as tricky for Hoffman’s supporters. Jeff Graham, the independent mayor of Watertown, told TWI that he endorsed Hoffman in part because of the attention that would come if he got elected. The embrace of right-wing talkers was more amusing than anything else.

“For Biden to say that Rush Limbaugh picked Doug Hoffman is ridiculous,” laughed Graham. “We all know it was Glenn Beck.”

Follow David Weigel on Twitter


Comments

41 Comments

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Trackback posted November 3, 2009 @ 9:48 am

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by _ccm: RT @TWI_news: A New Conservative Star Wrestles With the Spotlight http://bit.ly/26jKzq // Hoffman doesn’t even know the issues!…


Rush Limbaugh | All Days Long
Pingback posted November 3, 2009 @ 9:50 am

[...] A New Conservative Star Wrestles With the Spotlight The Washington Independent In the morning, as Vice President Joe Biden rallied Democrats in Watertown by portraying Hoffman as the candidate of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, … See all stories on this topic [...]


randy13069
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 11:18 am

Just voted for Doug Hoffman! Get ready America!
You really should not have awoken that sleeping giant


termin6tor
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 11:43 am

working for doug, an american heroic patriot
get ready america, you woke up the sleeping giant
we're coming, and you cant escape
we WILL take our country back
mark it down
frank woodward
patriot


24AheadDotCom
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

Yesterday, I posted in comments on a couple of Weigel's links to my Hoffman coverage, including questions for him. Since my questions could have revealed Hoffman to be somewhat of a fake – someone whose policies would raise the taxes on his followers – It's incredibly odd that Weigel wasn't able to ask any of them.

Was there a rift in the space-time continuum involving time zones, 'Dack vorteces, UFOs, or The Hat Man? Or, is Weigel just a hack writing for a Soros-funded pseudo-paper? I suspect the latter.


fc
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

you guys are funny. who cares if the candidate doesn't know anything about our district, or even live in it (hoffman does not). he likes glenn beck

so long republican party


jeffinohio
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

Look out America! The Radio WIngnuts are going to push rich CPA's in your district next! It's going to be the College Kids For Christ vs. ACORN! Are you ready to RUMMMBBLLLLEEEEE?!!!!!?

What we need more of in this country is right wing, anti-science nut jobs exposing themselves to the middle of America so as to hasten their return to confused silence. GO P(arty) O(f) G(od), on with Theocracy!


axonneuron
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

Seriously, the thrust of this is “Republican Carpetbaggers Invade Upstate New York”.


brendanm
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

Campus Crusade for Christ is the major right-wing Christianist college group.


brendanm
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

Also, make sure you vote today. No on 2 is the only one I'm totally sure about, at this point.


brendanm
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

SLEEPING GIANT!!!1!@!

At least he appeared to be asleep in all the interviews I've seen…


republicanstupidity
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

Hey idiot, what in the world makes you clowns think you are right?? Every move every decision that the Repuke Party and their idiots that follow them have been proven by facts to be wrong! Why do you think this country wants to listen to assholes like you?


republicanstupidity
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

Yeah it my way or nothing right, when at every turn you mornic clowns have been proven WRONG!!! Every decision every choice the Retard Republicans have ever made have been worng why in the hell do you assholes think that you are right now? Same lies same old bullshit repackaged to make people think its new you idiots make me sick


republicanstupidity
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

Now whats he gonna do come blow you or something? That is the retard repuke way


Gus
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

Love the tough guy who wants violence, and the other guy who sees an African-American and immediately assumes he's with ACORN. Nope, no racism here. Friggin' rednecks are the ones who need an ass-kickin'


TheGrandPanjandrum
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

When Hoffman votes against agricultural subsidies (it is socialism, right?) and EFCA all the dairy farmers and union members who voted for him will be glad they did. I just hope he gets the gummint out of everyones Medicare!


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Pingback posted November 3, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

[...] teabaggers are America’s greatest patriots. They certainly aren’t violent racists: In the morning, as Vice President Joe Biden rallied Democrats in Watertown by portraying Hoffman [...]


axonneuron
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

Hoffman's a carpetbagger and so are most of his supporters.


Hot Air » Blog Archive » Video: Hoffman goes primetime
Pingback posted November 3, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

[...] flanking him, makes him seem that much more “authentic” and populist. More from Dave Weigel: It all led up to a political speech that was notable largely for its meekness. As Hoffman shifted [...]


aunttem
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

Like him or not, Hoffman is likely to win today's race. I believe there is room and interest RIGHT NOW for a new party, a conservative party, distinct from the GOP. And, I think Thompson and Palin and other staunch conservatives with popular voices should begin to coalesce this movement, rather than worrying about running for office themselves. If Hoffman wins, it will spark the seeds for this kind of new movement. Palin has a great following and could be a powerful part of initiating something huge and new like this.


dessel
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

are you scared? Typical goofball response to everything…


republicanstupidity
Comment posted November 3, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

Scared of what? You and that lying pipsqueek? Bitch please put your hand down no one knows who you or that wide stance moron are.


anonanon
Comment posted November 4, 2009 @ 9:35 am

Resounding win for the conservative teabagging movement!

Oh wait…


Swami_Binkinanda
Comment posted November 4, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

Palin is not a conservative, she is Huey Long in a dress.


logicgrrl
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 11:16 am

How'd that work out for you? LOL!!!!!


smartalek
Comment posted December 21, 2009 @ 10:46 am

Funny thing — all the wingnuts / teabaggers / FReePers / Publicans told us over and over that a Hoffman win would represent the resurgent REAL American voters, the ones who make the USA a “center-right” country, and presage the utter rejection and coming downfall of the socialist sellout Dem's and Hopey-Changey Obama the Illegal-Immigrant Muslim Usurper.
But now that a Democrat has won a historically reliable Republican district….

[crickets]

Dead silence, except for the predictable lies about voter fraud. (Read the article — a Black member of Hoffman's own campaign was assumed to be an ACORN infiltrator! Odds that ACORN or anyone else committed vote fraud at all, let alone in sufficient numbers to “steal” the election are a Kelvin zero.)
Also funny how that Liberal Drive-by Dinosaur Media has nothing to say about it either. You might almost suspect… (whispers)they're not really liberal!


smartalek
Comment posted December 21, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

Funny thing — all the wingnuts / teabaggers / FReePers / Publicans told us over and over that a Hoffman win would represent the resurgent REAL American voters, the ones who make the USA a “center-right” country, and presage the utter rejection and coming downfall of the socialist sellout Dem's and Hopey-Changey Obama the Illegal-Immigrant Muslim Usurper.
But now that a Democrat has won a historically reliable Republican district….

[crickets]

Dead silence, except for the predictable lies about voter fraud. (Read the article — a Black member of Hoffman's own campaign was assumed to be an ACORN infiltrator! Odds that ACORN or anyone else committed vote fraud at all, let alone in sufficient numbers to “steal” the election are a Kelvin zero.)
Also funny how that Liberal Drive-by Dinosaur Media has nothing to say about it either. You might almost suspect… (whispers)they're not really liberal!


Fold/Spindle/Mutilate 2.1 » Blog Archive » Ten Things That Did Not Suck About The Media In 2009
Pingback posted December 31, 2009 @ 8:21 pm

[...] about it. Over the past year, he’s written the book on the Birther movement, offered the best on-the-ground coverage of the fascinating election in New York’s 23rd district, and is THE GUY who proved that the [...]


Arfah
Comment posted March 21, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

Thank a lot.


Paging Al Jolson… « Around The Sphere
Pingback posted April 26, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

[...] feel like they have to engage in baroque gestures of solidarity, considering that merely being a black stranger in a conservative crowd puts one at risk of being mistaken for a member of [...]


lv
Comment posted August 9, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

Dead silence, except for the predictable lies about voter fraud. (Read the article — a Black member of Hoffman's own campaign was assumed to be an ACORN infiltrator! Odds that ACORN or anyone else committed vote fraud at all, let alone in sufficient numbers to “steal” the election are a Kelvin zero.)


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Comment posted August 20, 2010 @ 3:11 am

a Black member of Hoffman's own campaign was assumed to be an ACORN infiltrator! Odds that ACORN or anyone else committed vote fraud at all, let alone in sufficient numbers to “steal” the election are a Kelvin zero.)


guccihandbags
Comment posted August 21, 2010 @ 5:58 am

Just voted for Doug Hoffman! Get ready America!
You really should not have awoken that sleeping giant


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