ALBANY—More than 200 people showed up at the New York Athletic Club Thursday night–overlooking Central Park–for a reception hosted by the state Conservative Party. George Pataki was one of them. He wasn’t scheduled to speak at the event, which was held to honor former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
But the ex-governor–a moderate, particularly by national standards–took Chairman Mike Long aside and asked if he could say a few words: he wanted to declare his endorsement for Doug Hoffman, the Conservative’s candidate to replace John McHugh in Congress.
“I folded right away,” Long told me.
Pataki’s message was simple: Hoffman can win, and he is the best hope of Republicans and Conservatives to be a vote against the Nancy Pelosi.
“He will fight for our proud servicemen and women at Fort Drum, our dairy farmers in Lowville and our manufacturers in Plattsburgh,” Pataki said in a statement. “And Doug Hoffman can win.”
This underscores the problem for Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, the moderate (or liberal, depending on your slant) Republican who has the party’s nomination to replace McHugh: as conservatives in her party openly break for Hoffman, there is no counter-rally from the moderate wings, which like Pataki are succumbing to pragmatism or sitting on the sidelines.
“Look, the Republican Party is undergoing an identity crisis in New York state, and this groundswell for Hoffman has got the moderates kind of shell-shocked. They’re reeling,” said Bill Nojay, a Republican talk show host in central New York.
The race has stirred that identity crisis, on both the national level and the state level. In New York, where Nelson Rockefeller set a standard of socially liberal Republicanism, the comparatively moderate partisans picked Scozzafava. But the state party–now under the leadership of Ed Cox–is looking to purify itself ideologically. When Cox accepted his chairmanship in suburban Albany, he didn’t mention Scozzafava by name. He has raised funds, but has also noted that her selection took place before his time.
“We’re coming into this rather late in the game, our team. But we’re certainly trying to be as helpful as we can,” said Tom Basile, executive director of the Republican State Committee. Cox was in Syracuse Thursday spinning for Scozzafava after pre-recorded debate, and “appeared at” an event.
I asked John Faso, a more conservative Cox confidant and the party’s last gubernatorial candidate, where the moderates were.
“I don’t know. You can make the argument, but…I don’t know where they are. I just don’t know,” he said. He supported “the Republican candidate” with $250 and said “I hope the Republican wins the race.”
On the national level, Scozzafava doesn’t fare much better. Her support of same-sex marriage, abortion rights and card check has turned off many. Eleven congressional representatives endorsed Hoffman Thursday, joining former House Leader Dick Armey. Two of the party’s potential presidential nominees–Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty–are openly backing Hoffman.
Tom Reynolds, the former representative from Western New York, said that’s because “people are looking to be noticed or patted on the back or the head.” A distinction has to be made between conservative officials and the swelling conservative movement. “John Boehner is certainly a conservative Republican, and so is Eric Cantor. Both of them have supported Dede from day one. As has Pete Sessions, from Dallas, Texas–I sat next to him for six years in the Rules Committee, so I know how conservative he is,” Reynolds told me.
But the movement–whipped up by Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and media outlets like Red State and the Washington Times–is with Hoffman.
It is to be crossed at one’s peril, Reynolds said, noting that conservatives have helped swing the Republican Party into power in recent years the same way moderates swung the party into power in the 1970s. Plus, there aren’t many moderates to help. McHugh was one third of New York’s Republican delegation, and Representative Pete King has endorsed Scozzafava. (Representative Chris Lee has not taken a position, and was unavailable to talk about the race, a spokeswoman said.)
Reynolds said he’s supporting Scozzafava, “the party’s nominee.” All of the elected Republican legislators from the district–Bob Oaks, Will Barclay, Joe Griffo, Teresa Sayward, Janet Duprey–are working supporting Scozzafava’s campaign, as is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But with the larger forces aligning against her, there is clearly trouble.
“We’ve got a race here in the North Country that’s somewhat been hijacked by outside interests,” she said, frustrated, in a conference call earlier this week attacking her opponents unwillingness to debate. In response to this article, her spokesman Matt Burns offered this statement: Anyone endorsing either Doug Hoffman or Bill Owens obviously isn’t looking for a candidate who knows the issues confronting the hard-working people of the 23rd Congressional District. “Dede Scozzafava is the only choice for voters looking for a candidate who truly understands the issues and will fight for them in Congress. The sad but true fact is Dede’s opponents have been bought and paid for by special interest money from outside the district. Bill Owens and Doug Hoffman will have to repay those debts with their votes in Congress – and that will cost us all.”
Long, meanwhile, was gloating.
“He’s the first, I guess you could call him ‘establishment Republican’ in New York to go for Hoffman,” Long said of Pataki. “I suspect others will follow.”
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