Long’s Path Back to Row C

PLATTSBURGH—For Mike Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party, a win for Doug Hoffman in the race to replace John McHugh would be worth more than just a seat in Congress.

“Whether Hoffman wins or not, the Conservative Party has clearly driven the action in that race,” said Bruce Gyory, a political consultant and adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.

Over coffee last month, Gyory made the case that Hoffman is one key in a three-pronged strategy by the Conservatives to assert their relevance (this argument gained new weight when Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate, suspended her bid this weekend) as the most dominant third party in the state. According to Gyory, the other two prongs are Steve Hansen in the Nassau County executive’s race and Stephen Christopher, a stealth candidate for New York Mayor.

“I think Mike wanted to send a message to a number of people in the Senate and the Assembly: don’t take me for granted. Some of these guys are now running to the Independence Party for their support,” Gyory said. “He’s proving his muscle and making it much harder for people to isolate him.”

And not just legislative races: Long has positioned himself to exercise a lot of influence on the formation of the Republican ticket the next time around. Also, a series of wins could bring Long closer to winning the votes to gain back Row C on the ticket, which his party lost when the Independence Party backed Tom Golisano. (Ballot placement is determined by the number of votes on each line in the governor’s race. Long’s success could conceivably make it more likely that the Republicans will nominate someone he would cross-endorse.)

The Conservatives currently occupy Row D, which may hurt Hoffman.

During an interview with me last week, Long denied being so Machiavellian.

“Look, I’m not flexing my muscles,” he said. “In all honesty, I don’t see us doing anything different than what I have attempted to do since I’ve been state chairman. In politics, sometimes it has to be the right time, the right place, and the right candidate. Clearly, there have been peaks and valleys, and that will always be in the game of politics. Certainly, the Doug Hoffman race is going to be one of those high points.”

“Would I prefer to be on Row C? It rhymes with the Conservative Party. Yes, and I intend to work towards that,” he continued. “We were a hair behind the Independence Party in 2006. We’re not far at all from them. And we had a tough year–we had Eliot Spitzer, who had 70 percent of the vote. We didn’t lose it because we lost our bearings, but we lost it because he spent a ton of money.”