New York Race Big Test for GOP

Posted October 7, 2009 at 6:49pm

Conservative Republicans have been loudly criticizing the party’s nominee in the Nov. 3 special election to replace former Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), but now prominent moderates are leading the charge to push back against those critics and help elect state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, who faces a challenge from the right as well as from Democrats.

At the GOP’s weekly Conference meeting Wednesday, Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.) joined National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) in lauding Scozzafava and encouraging other Members to support her, party sources confirmed. Sessions assured Members that despite Scozzafava’s moderate leanings — she has voted in support of gay marriage in the New York Assembly and favors some abortion rights — she will be voting with the Republican Conference 95 percent or more of the time.

And the Scozzafava campaign confirmed that former Govs. Bill Weld of Massachusetts and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey — two leading moderate Republican voices from the Northeast — will be headlining a New York City fundraiser for Scozzafava on Tuesday along with new state party Chairman Ed Cox and New York County Chairwoman Jennifer Saul.

Dent, a leading House moderate who is active with the Republican Main Street Partnership and Tuesday Group political action committee, is actively soliciting support for Scozzafava, who leads in recent polls in the three-way race against Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.

“The leadership is pulling behind Dede and they have reached out to the moderate base— to help line up support, said one Congressional aide with knowledge of the Tuesday Group’s operations.The aide added that the support for Scozzafava is “not just moderates,— but Conference-wide.

Indeed, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is actively backing Scozzafava and sought to give her a boost by announcing last month that he would support her for a post on the Armed Services Committee. McHugh was the ranking member on the panel before he resigned to become secretary of the Army, and a spot on the committee remains an important asset in the upstate 23rd district. The area is home to a sizable population of military veterans and Fort Drum, one of the largest and most modern Army facilities on the East Coast.

The NRCC is also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads on behalf of Scozzafava’s candidacy.

And former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) got in a plug for Scozzafava during a party event for Republican donors and others at the 21 Club in New York City on Tuesday, encouraging the audience to help the GOP candidate win the special election, his spokesman Joe DeSantis confirmed.

Scozzafava also got a big boost Wednesday when the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund endorsed her, calling her “the only candidate in this special Congressional election with a solid pro-gun legislative record.—

But not every Republican in the House is thrilled with Scozzafava’s candidacy, however. Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) has not contributed to her campaign, several House GOP sources confirmed Wednesday.

Pence declined to comment on the race, but sources said a small group of conservatives share his belief that her views on abortion and gay marriage make her incompatible with the core principles of the party.

That echoes the reaction among conservative activists and third-party groups, who have been railing against Scozzafava since the district’s county chairmen tapped her as their nominee in July.They have balked at Scozzafava’s moderate stances on social issues, her ties to organized labor — she has run jointly on the Republican and labor-backed Working Families Party lines while in the Assembly — and her support, albeit qualified, for the economic stimulus package and the 2008-2009 state budget. In response, the state Conservative Party, which tends to endorse the GOP’s slate of candidates, opted to field its own candidate, Hoffman, whom Republicans passed over to tap Scozzafava.

The rift between the Conservative and Republican parties took on a sharper tenor last month when anti-tax group Club for Growth got in the race behind Hoffman and immediately dumped more than a quarter million dollars into attack ads against Scozzafava and Owens.

“You go through all the issues and it’s clear she’s liberal,— Club for Growth Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Roth said last month, a sentiment shared on any number of right-wing blogs.

Among the conservative groups and political action committees who are backing Hoffman are Citizens United, New York State Right to Life PAC, Susan B. Anthony List and Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families PAC.

And while a recent poll conducted by Siena College showed Hoffman polling at 16 percent and he is a long shot to win the race, he clearly could have an effect on the outcome. The accountant and entrepreneur garnered support from 22 percent of likely Republican voters and 20 percent of independents, many of whom who would likely otherwise trend toward Scozzafava. Instead, the Republican led Owens by just 7 points in the poll.

Democrats certainly see an opportunity; so much so that President Barack Obama is now sticking his neck out on the race by hosting a fundraiser for Owens on Oct. 20 in New York City after a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

One conservative Republican lawmaker pointed to the fact that Republicans need to accept more moderate candidates if they have any hope of returning to power — even if it means backing candidates who have beliefs that run counter to their core principles.

“Look, we have to get to 218 and McHugh was part of that 178 [current Republican Members]. Once we get to 260, 270, we can start kicking some people out,— the lawmaker said. “But when you’re at 178, you really can’t dismiss a lot of people.—

Republicans are pressing the argument that Hoffman has no path to victory and that a vote for him essentially is a vote for the Democrat.

“At the end of the day, Dede is the candidate who can win this race, and she’ll be a vote for John Boehner,— Scozzafava campaign spokesman Matt Burns said.

Former Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), the president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which has endorsed Scozzafava, said he expects Members, particularly in the moderate wing of the party, are “going to start anteing up.—

The Republican Main Street Partnership’s PAC plans to donate the maximum $10,000 to Scozzafava’s campaign, Davis said, and is encouraging its Members to give. “There may or may not be independent expenditures, as well,— he said, referring to third-party advertising on the candidate’s behalf. “We can’t just have the Club for Growth in there doing stuff.—

Davis called the election “a real test— for Republicans. “We’re going to find out if we’re a political party or a private club,— he said.