SARANAC LAKE—Doug Hoffman and his supporters gathered here to proclaim a great victory, the first peak in a populist right-wing movement that would sweep the ruling class out of office starting with a win in this Congressional district. Instead, they came up short, settling with a campaign that asserted conservative dominance over the moderate wing of the Republican Party, even if it couldn’t stand up to the Republican agenda.
“This is a race that meant an awful lot to a lot of people in this district, it meant a lot to the people across the country and it meant an awful lot to each and every one of you,” Mike Long, chairman of the Conservative Party, said. “We had victory all through this election. No one in the world believed we would be where we are even. We climbed the hill, we got almost to the top of the hill, because we had such a dynamic, sincere, honest person who had the courage and conviction to stand up.”
“This one was worth the fight, and it’s only one fight in a battle, and we have to keep fighting!” Hoffman, Long’s darling of the moment, said during his concession. “We have to stand up and we have to fight against the Nancy Pelosi agenda.”
But his loss is a blow to that movement, which had staked itself firmly on his candidacy. Democrats ran a superior ground effort–built on a last-minute infusion of organized labor–that propelled Bill Owens to victory. With 89 percent of precincts reporting and Owens ahead by just under 4,300 votes, Hoffman conceded.
Conservatives immediately began bragging about the result.
“It might be a blow to some people, it’s not a blow to us,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony list, which sent over 200 volunteers to work on Hoffman’s behalf. “From having to lobby Scozzafava from here to eternity on issues that I care about would be a much more difficult task.”
I asked Jim Kelly, an operative who began attacking Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava before she was officially nominated, how this would impact the movement that rose up to favor Hoffman.
“We obtained our goal,” he replied. “Dede Scozzafava’s in her living room tonight. I wish I could give you a better answer.”
But there were higher hopes.
At a storefront headquarters in Plattsburgh, next to a French café and across the street from Lake Champlain, a dozen Hoffman supporters made campaign calls because “we’d like to send a message to Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Washington elite today.” Red-white-and-blue bunting garnished the windows. The walls were decorated with a picture of Ronald Reagan riding a horse, a picture of Ronald Reagan signing something, a picture of Ronald Reagan chopping wood and another of him driving a jeep as well as a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a picture of Ronald Reagan (in a white Cowboy hat) reading something. A television was tuned to Fox News, and one volunteer informed the others that “Glenn Beck’s been non-stop since like 10–he’s not talking about Virginia, he’s talking about us!” It was noon.
David Kimmel, the former chairman of the Town of Plattsburgh Republican Party, greeted me with a crushing handshake and an apology for his coffee breath, “it’s been a long week.” He announced me to the room, noting “just like we want our government to be, we’re very open.” While he’s a registered Republican, Kimmel never worked for Dede Scozzafava.
“I have a lot of friends still in elective office and they say they were strong-armed into supporting her,” he said. He gestured around the room. The people working had been volunteering since the office opened eighteen days before, when Tony Maglione roped together enough locals to join an office. Most of the people were working on their first campaign.
Like Jeremy Kain. The special education teacher from Chazy said he was driven to action, because “what basically a handful of guys in New York City did was tell a bunch of us up here that we don’t matter.”
“I don’t care about Tea Parties movements or marches or anything else,” he said, noting that he has been to two. “It’s not hard to find. There’s enough people that are just annoyed.”
They’re mostly pro-life, and offended by same-sex marriage. They oppose Obamacare. And Obama. “I wouldn’t have voted if there was no Hoffman. And I’ve been voting since I was 21,” Jack Brady, a retired NYPD officer told me. “I’m terrified of what Obama’s doing. He wants to turn this into a third world country.”
Later, they say they like Hoffman. He’s an accountant, and that’s needed in Washington.
“He doesn’t show it on T.V.,” Kain explains, “but he is. I’ve seen him in small group settings–like five, six people–and he’s just a great man. We’ve already had enough people up dancing on stage and look how that worked out.”
Even after three months on the campaign trail, Hoffman’s delivery is choppy and stiff. Meeting with voters at the Homestead Restaurant in Western Plattsburgh, he deferred to Mayor Donald Kasprzak, who seemed to know half the people there personally.
“We’ve had for the last two weeks and especially the last three days a lot of volunteers–probably five or six hundred volunteers–throughout the district,” Hoffman said. “They’re all manned with people who have given a lot of time and effort calling and going door-to-door in talking about our campaign.”
Hoffman’s supporters gathered in two rooms upstairs at this high-rise brick building in the Village of Saranac Lake, watching CNN and the local cable channel as they munched on pigs in a blanket, bacon-wrapped scallops and cheese cubes. The candidate gave an interview to Fox News before disappearing into an upstairs room with Long and other campaign managers. People watched the results nervously. They were not breaking as strongly as needed in the southern counties of the 11-county district.
The lobby became a camping ground for the national press. Right-wing bloggers traded war stories from the Ron Paul campaign. Over a Corona, R.S. McCain bragged about his distant relation to Senator John (“but I’m not a loser”) while he declared someone named Nicole the executive director of “Hotties for Hoffman.” Later, I heard him grousing about voter fraud. After Hoffman conceded, he informed the room there was a bar down the street with a last call at 3 a.m. and then started talking about Marco Rubio.
”I don’t regret anything,” Jeremy Kain, the teacher, told me later by phone. “I’m going to be even more motivated. It didn’t work out, but we were pretty darn close.”
“I’ll tell you what: at first I felt a little bit embarrassed about certain stuff. But the more people became aware of how well this is working, they’ve been supportive. My wife, my neighbors, and it’s not just Republicans. Face to face, at least five neighbors have told me they pulled the lever for Barack Obama and regret what they did,” he said.
It was after midnight when the official concession came. The lingering supporters pooled in one of the rooms to hear the words. Long was the only one to stand on stage behind Hoffman–all the Republican officials who had swung by earlier had left. Two women embraced and swayed.
Hoffman’s speech was as dry as ever. But after seven minutes, he managed to spark a cheer.
“Let’s keep the fight going,” he said to applause. “Let’s make sure that our voices are heard. Let’s stand up!”
“We will fight back!” Someone in the crowd screamed.
“We will fight back. Washington has not won!”
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