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New York: Race for McHugh Seat Intensifies With New Poll

Even though Rep. John McHugh (R) has yet to be confirmed as secretary of the Army, the three-way special election to replace him intensified this week.

Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman released a poll on Wednesday showing him competitive with state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) and attorney Bill Owens (D). The survey, conducted Aug. 25-26 by McLaughlin & Associates, showed Scozzafava, far and away the best-known candidate in the race, with 26 percent, followed by Owens with 17 percent and Hoffman, a Lake Placid certified public accountant who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination, with 16 percent. The poll of 300 likely voters had a 5.7-point margin of error.

Beyond the initial trial heat, the survey showed that a conservative candidate in the upstate district has plenty of potential, depending on how the contenders are perceived by the voters. Scozzafava is a moderate on social issues.

In a memo, pollster John McLaughlin called Hoffman “a very viable candidate who can win.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seized on the poll as a sign that Scozzafava is weak.

“Even partisan Republican polling has Assemblywoman Scozzafava in trouble,” DCCC spokesman Shripal Shah said. “The Albany politician who has represented a large part of the district in the state Assembly is simply not viewed well by her own constituents, and her weak support demonstrates their dissatisfaction with her record.”

McLaughlin is one of several prominent Republican strategists who have signed on to Hoffman’s campaign. The list includes Tom Slater of TLS Associates, a veteran New York GOP operative, as lead consultant; Dan Odescalchi of Strategic Advantage International, who is the senior adviser for new media; Rob Ryan, the senior communications adviser who was campaign manager to former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) when Pataki won his first term; Nelson Warfield, who has worked for the presidential campaigns of former Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) as senior media consultant; and Carter Wrenn, a 40-year veteran of the political wars as senior strategic adviser.

Hoffman this week also snagged the endorsement of Concerned Women for America, a conservative group that opposes abortion rights.

Owens began to come out of the political shadows this week, appearing Wednesday at a fundraiser with Vice President Joseph Biden at a law firm in Syracuse, which is not in the 23rd district (Biden was also raising money for freshman Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei, who does represent Syracuse).

The National Republican Congressional Committee took potshots at both Owens and Hoffman on Wednesday, accusing Hoffman of fudging his position on civil unions and complaining that Owens has yet to take a position on Democratic health care reform proposals.

Because there is no vacancy yet, the special election to replace McHugh hasn’t been scheduled. If he is confirmed in the next few weeks, it is highly likely that the special will take place on Election Day, Nov. 3.

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