Scozzafava, a GOP moderate, took this unusual and dramatic step as the latest poll in the race confirmed that her support had collapsed, and that she had slipped to third in her closely watched three-way race with Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman, who has benefited from the defections of conservative activists and some high-profile national Republican figures.
In a statement, Scozzafava said she is dropping her bid for the good of her party and her community. "In recent days, polls have indicated that my chances of winning this election are not as strong as we would like them to be," she said. "The reality that I've come to accept is that in today's political arena, you must be able to back up your message with money -- and as I've been outspent on both sides, I've been unable to effectively address many of the charges that have been made about my record."
The news that the longtime state assemblywoman is ending her campaign came as a new poll released Saturday morning showed Democrat Owens, an attorney, and Conservative Hoffman, an accountant, in a dead heat. The Siena Research Institute poll showed Owens at 36 percent and Hoffman at 35 percent. Scozzafava had dropped well behind to 20 percent in the survey, which had a margin of error of 4 points.
Although she has suspended her campaign, Scozzafava's name will still appear on Tuesday's ballot and she will no doubt draw some percentage of the vote. The size of her vote total could effect the outcome of the race.
The poll bookends a week during which rank-and-file Republicans on Capitol Hill and across the country were flocking to support Hoffman's campaign. House Republican leaders and their campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, had supported Scozzafava as the party's nominee, but GOP leaders issued a joint statement Saturday urging support for Hoffman and seeking to tie Democratic nominee Owens to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
"With Assemblywoman Scozzafava suspending her campaign, we urge voters to support Doug Hoffman's candidacy in New York's 23rd Congressional District," their statement said. "He is the only active candidate in the race who supports lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and opposes Nancy Pelosi's agenda of government-run health care, more government and less jobs. We look forward to welcoming Doug Hoffman into the House Republican Conference as we work together for the good of our nation."
Owens, however, fired back Saturday afternoon with a release that aimed to tie Hoffman to unpopular former President George W. Bush. Owens also emphasized the backing Hoffman has received from the Club for Growth, a national conservative organization that over the past decade has defined center-left Republicans like Scozzafava as RINOs -- Republicans In Name Only -- and has backed conservative challengers to these moderates with expensive and hard-hitting TV ad campaigns.
"Voters have a clear choice on Tuesday: they can elect to go back to the George Bush economic agenda, or they can vote to move forward," Owens said. "Doug Hoffman and the Club for Growth's extremist agenda won't do a thing to get our economy moving again."
In her statement Saturday, Scozzafava did not offer an endorsement, but she released her supporters to back another candidate. Because Scozzafava's strongest support has always been among Republican moderates, it is possible that a large chunk of her supporters could move to Owens, the Democrat, rather than Hoffman. Her statement did not mention Hoffman by name.
"It is increasingly clear that pressure is mounting on many of my supporters to shift their support. Consequently, I hereby release those individuals who have endorsed and supported my campaign to transfer their support as they see fit to do so," she said. "I am and have always been a proud Republican. It is my hope that with my actions today, my party will emerge stronger and our district and our nation can take an important step towards restoring the enduring strength and economic prosperity that has defined us for generations."
In a statement Hoffman decried all of the liberal support and money that has been flooding into the district to help boost Owens. He did not mention the wave of money and endorsements from national conservatives that helped move his third-party bid into contention to win the race.
"This campaign is a horse race between me and Nancy Pelosi's handpicked candidate, Bill Owens," Hoffman said. "It's time for us to send a message to Washington -- we're sick and tired of big-spending, high-taxing, career politicians and by voting for me on Tuesday you will send that message loud and clear."
Hoffman also made no mention of Scozzafava in his statement. Owens, by contrast, paid tribute to his sidelined rival. Scozzafava, Owens said, "has been an honorable public servant for years now and I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her commitment to her principles. While we disagree on certain issues, we share a dedication to serving the best interests of Upstate New York and the Obama administration's efforts to get our economy back on track. Those interests will always be my highest priority."
The special election in upstate New York was triggered by the resignation of nine-term Republican Rep. John M. McHugh, who was confirmed as secretary of the Army in September. Although the district has a Republican registration advantage, it voted narrowly for Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee in the 2008 presidential election.
To help rally Democrats to go to the polls, the White House is sending Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the district to campaign with Owens on Monday.