The floodgates have officially opened on the Republican leaders who are trying to hold together Member support, or at least minimize outright opposition, for the partys nominee, Dede Scozzafava, in next weeks special House election in upstate New York.
On Tuesday, former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) spurned the leadership by endorsing Doug Hoffmans third-party campaign in the New York special election, following the lead of Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), who announced his support for Hoffman on Friday. Other national conservative GOP leaders, such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.), have also endorsed Hoffman, and Thompson is now appearing in a Hoffman TV ad that began airing Tuesday.
But the defection of House Republicans is particularly noteworthy especially Cole, who helmed the NRCC in the 2008 cycle and appears to be at odds with his successor at the committee, Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas).
One House Republican, who declined to be identified, said he was not surprised that his colleagues had backed Hoffman and predicted more members of the caucus would formally back the state Conservative Party nominee in the coming days.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said the endorsements were certainly not helpful.
I think if you could hit the reset button on the whole thing, you would, Roskam said, expressing a sentiment no doubt shared by many in the GOP in what is turning out to be a divisive race for the party.
The public support for Hoffman among Members comes amid growing indications that he has a shot at winning the three-way race and that Scozzafava, a political moderate, is sinking.
In his letter endorsing the Conservative Party nominee, Cole called Hoffman the only Republican who can win this special election.
Democrats agree. Theyre running neck and neck, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer said of Hoffman and attorney Bill Owens, the Democratic nominee.
As a result, the party is shifting its advertising attacks from Scozzafava to Hoffman, with a $245,000 ad buy this week criticizing Hoffman as out of touch and for supporting failed economic policies. The DCCC also raised the specter of Hoffman winning a seat in Congress to solicit funds Tuesday.
One Republican in the House said many members of the political action committee community now believe Scozzafava will come in third next Tuesday. Is that dead in the water? Id say that was pretty damaged, the Republican said.
That sentiment conforms with a poll released Monday by a group allied with Hoffman, the anti-tax group Club for Growth, which had Hoffman in the lead. But the poll was based on a very small sample size. And the group released another poll earlier in the race that overstated Hoffmans standing compared to an independent poll released soon after.
National Republicans say their polls do not show Scozzafava in third, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has pledged to stick by her. The NRCC reported $42,000 in ad spending going after Owens on Monday.
They further claim that the DCCCs attacks on Hoffman are driven by the fact that he is drawing a big chunk of independents, which Owens needs. Hoffman led Owens and Scozzafava among independents according to a poll released last week by the liberal blog Daily Kos. It was conducted by the independent polling firm Research 2000.
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