Attorney Bill Owens (D) held off Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman in Tuesdays special election to succeed former Rep. John McHugh (R) a topsy turvy race dominated by national political disputes in a normally quiet corner of upstate New York.
With 87 percent of precincts reporting, Owens led 49 percent to 45 percent, with state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) drawing 5.5 percent of the vote. Hoffman conceded the race just after midnight.
Scozzafava, a moderate who was originally selected as the GOPs nominee, dropped out of the race the weekend before Election Day and then endorsed Owens showcasing a major ideological rift within GOP ranks. Scozzafavas endorsement of Owens looks to have been a factor in the Democrats surprisingly strong performance in Jefferson County, a Republican stronghold and Scozzafavas home base in the sprawling district.
The Democratic win in the special election prevented Republicans from a full sweep of Tuesdays most hotly contested races, as the GOP wrested control of the New Jersey and Virginia governorships from Democrats.
The tumultuous race to replace McHugh, who resigned to become secretary of the Army, was immediately being parsed for implications far beyond the borders of the traditionally Republican but increasingly competitive 23rd district.
Owens victory is significant on several levels. First, it further enhances Democrats near-monopoly on New Yorks 29 Congressional seats and leaves only two Republicans in the states House delegation. It also represents the second special election loss for Republicans this year in New York and signifies further erosion of the partys ability to win seats in the northeast.
It is also highly uncommon for the party in control of the White House to flip a seat into its column. The last time that happened was in 2001, when now-Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) won a special election to succeed a Democrat in the first year of the George W. Bush administration.
McHugh easily held the seat for nine terms and Republicans enjoy a 46,000-person registration advantage in the district. But voters there narrowly favored President Barack Obama last year.
Both parties and their surrogates invested heavily in the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent more than $1 million on independent campaign activities backing Owens. The National Republican Congressional Committee made nearly $900,000 in independent expenditures in the race, most of which were on TV ads targeted at Owens in a effort to boost Scozzafavas campaign.
This election represents a double-blow for National Republicans and their hopes of translating this summers tea party energy into victories at the ballot box," DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a statement. "Not only did eight extreme right-wing groups spend more than $1 million to drive the moderate Republican and the NRCCs chosen candidate out of the race. Now, after losing a seat that was held by Republicans for nearly 120 years, they have to deal with an emboldened and well-funded far right-wing that refuses to tolerate moderate Republicans with differing opinions."
The NRCC and House Republican leaders all initially backed Scozzafava, who was nominated in a vote by the 11 county party chairmen in the district. But Scozzafava came under attack from conservative activists over her support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage and her sympathies toward labor unions.