With Scozzafava Out, Hoffman Leads in N.Y. Special

Posted November 2, 2009 at 10:47am

Accountant Doug Hoffman, the upstart Conservative Party candidate now backed by national Republicans, has taken the lead over Democrat Bill Owens in Tuesday’s special election in upstate New York, according to two new polls conducted over the weekend. According to a Siena College poll conducted Nov. 1, Hoffman led Owens 41 percent to 36 percent after the two were essentially tied in a Siena poll released Saturday morning. However, the poll found that a large number of voters, 18 percent, were still undecided. Depending on which way those voters break, they are likely to decide the election. The poll’s margin of error was 4 points. In a dramatic turn of events, Hoffman was the prime beneficiary of Saturday’s surprise announcement that Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava was withdrawing from the race because of a lack of support and funds. She had taken a beating from Democrats as well as Republicans who deemed her too liberal on social and some fiscal issues, and a long list of lawmakers and conservative luminaries had gotten on board with Hoffman’s campaign over the past week. With Scozzafava out, the Republican Party swiftly moved to endorse Hoffman, and a chunk of GOP voters who had backed Scozzafava have followed suit, helping Hoffman take the lead over Owens. Scozzafava, however, endorsed Owens on Sunday and made a surprise visit to his campaign event in Canton the same day.The two men are vying to succeed former Rep. John McHugh (R), who vacated the seat in the traditionally Republican 23rd district when he was confirmed as secretary of the Army in September.A survey by Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling found Hoffman’s lead was even larger — 51 to 34 percent, with a margin of error of 2.3 points. The poll was conducted Saturday and Sunday amid the news breaking of Scozzafava’s withdrawal and her subsequent endorsement of Owens. It found that 13 percent still supported Scozzafava and 3 percent were undecided.But in a release analyzing its results, PPP wrote that despite “a tumultuous polling weekend,— there were “no significant differences in the numbers at any point over the course of the weekend. Hoffman led Owens by 18 points in interviews before Scozzafava’s withdrawal, 19 points in between her withdrawal and the announcement of her endorsement, and by 14 points subsequent to her encouraging people to vote for Owens.—The Siena poll, conducted after Scozzafava dropped out, found that Hoffman’s support among Republicans jumped from 50 percent to 63 percent since late last week, but his proportion of the independent vote dropped slightly. Owens now has the lead among independents, according to the poll, 43 percent to 37 percent for Hoffman.“It appears, however, that the majority of Scozzafava’s supporters have gone to neither Hoffman nor Owens, but rather into the undecided column, which has doubled since Scozzafava ended her candidacy,— wrote Siena pollster Steven Greenberg, highlighting the 18 percent of likely voters who now say they are unsure whom they will vote for. One worrying sign for Owens as the candidates work to get their backers to the polls on Tuesday: Those who told PPP they plan to vote reported backing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president over Barack Obama in 2008 by an 8-point margin, “an indication of reduced Democratic turnout,— the firm noted. Democrats hope Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit to the district Monday can help rally party voters. Siena found that Biden has a net unfavorable rating among district voters — 41 percent unfavorable to 37 percent favorable — but that he remains popular among Democrats, with 64 percent viewing him favorably.Pollsters for Siena and PPP ultimately drew different conclusions about the race. Doug Hoffman “looks like he will win a resounding victory,— wrote Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. Siena’s Greenberg was far more cautious. “With nearly one in five voters undecided the day before Election Day and voters still trying to comprehend the dramatic withdrawal of Scozzafava, and her subsequent endorsement of Owens, this is still a wide open race,— he said in a statement.