So now that Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman is the de facto Republican candidate in NY-23, what happens? Local Republican parties in the district, some of them led by people who were never happy with former GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava, will endorse Hoffman. National Republicans, including the NRCC, will endorse Hoffman. The steady stream of news-making endorsements from national conservative and Republican leaders will continue, but it’ll mean less now.
The only organizations that endorsed Scozzafava which might go for Democratic candidate Bill Owens are Independence Party affiliates, unions, and local newspapers. It’s from the likes of the Watertown Daily Times that Owens will probably find his strongest new support. On October 29, that paper endorsed Scozzafava while characterizing Hoffman, who’d flubbed an interview with the editorial board, as “co-opted by the right-wing national politicians.” New York State United Teachers, which endorsed Scozzafava, is widely expected to back Owens.
What does the Scozzafava surprise mean for the Owens-Hoffman horse race? Unfortunately for Hoffman and Democratic candidate Bill Owens, some unknown number of people have already cast absentee ballots — which started going out a month ago — for Scozzafava. And as Scozzafava noted in her statement, she will appear on the ballot on Tuesday as the candidate of the Republican and Independence Parties.
Who gets Scozzafava’s voters? According to this morning’s Siena Poll, her support had collapsed across the board. Her remaining strength came mostly from Republicans — 29 percent of them backed her — and from the Watertown/Gouverneur region of the district that she represents in the state assembly. Hoffman, whose organizing in that region has been aided by third-party conservative groups, is going to make a push there. But will he scoop up all of those errant Republican votes? These aren’t all conservative voters. Many of them backed Barack Obama in 2008. Many of them, of course, backed Dede Scozzafava throughout her multiple local campaigns. But Hoffman has been steadily increasing his advantage with Republican voters, winning 50 percent of them in this Siena Poll.
The best news for Owens in the Siena Poll might be the popularity of President Obama — his approval is at 59 percent in this district, the highest it’s been during the whole campaign. If Hoffman maintains his advantage with independents and Republicans and gets his excited activists — who are really walking on air today — to turn out the vote, he has a clear path to victory. The Democratic response is obvious — define Hoffman as a creature of the far right, max out their base turnout with the help of unions — and will be aided by a high-profile Monday campaign appearance from Vice President Joe Biden.
Of course, the fate of one congressional district that Republicans have held for more than a century might be less meaningful, in the long run, than the victory conservative activists have scored over their party’s establishment. Would-be Republican leaders such as Newt Gingrich, and to a lesser extent Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, have done themselves some damage by not getting on Hoffman’s bandwagon when it counted. Gingrich, in particular, who appeared on Fox News to make the case for Scozzafava, has quickly become a ridiculed figure among Tea Party activists.