Is There a Hoffman Scenario?

ALBANY—Could Doug Hoffman actually win a seat in Congress? He’s been cast, understandably, in the spoiler role—the guy running to

ALBANY—Could Doug Hoffman actually win a seat in Congress?

He’s been cast, understandably, in the spoiler role—the guy running to the right of Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, who would siphon off enough votes from her that Bill Owens, the Democratic Party’s nominee, would win the race to replace John McHugh. But the legs have been cut from underneath Scozzafava’s candidacy in recent days: She’s running low on cash as groups pound her with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads. She had a disastrous appearance yesterday in front of Hoffman’s headquarters. She called the cops on a reporter for The Weekly Standard, then lied to reporters about it. Conservative editorial pages—The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal—and pundits—Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck—are now putting their marbles behind Hoffman. The Washington Examiner just called on Scozzafava to withdraw from the race.

“Here’s the question,” Roger Stone, the conservative Republican strategist, said. “Will he voters of the 23rd see this as a race where two liberals split the liberal vote allowing the Republican to win, or will two Republicans split the Republican and allow the Democrat to win?”

Conservatives have been saying this all along, and may wind up with a great told-you-so moment if Hoffman wins, or finishes ahead of Scozzafava. (Polls show him closing the gap.)

“There is no doubt in my mind that she will come in last,” said George Marlin, a conservative blogger and banker.  “Once again, the Republicans learn that you cannot out-Democrat the Democrats. And when you try to, your base explodes.”

Everyone points to the 1970 election of James Buckley to the U.S. Senate. Charles Goodell, a moderate Republican, was appointed by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller after Robert F. Kennedy was killed by Sirhan Sirhan. In office, he began to oppose the Vietnam War, and ran Democrat Rick Ottinger and Buckley on the Conservative Party line. Buckley squeaked out the win and served until 1976.

The key for Conservatives backing Hoffman has been to paint Scozzafava as a liberal, pointing to her record as a legislator in Albany—she voted twice to legalize gay marriage—her past associations with ACORN and the Working Families Party and her votes in favor of budgets that contained tax increases. Hoffman and his surrogates have been doing this for weeks now, and without financial backing, Scozzafava has been left without the resources to shoot back.

The other trick here is to remember that Republican leaders in the district are relatively comfortable with Hoffman, given their options. While Scozzafava won the nomination, it left bad feelings in the minds of some local county chairs and committee members—and some might even support him. George Joseph, chairman of the Oneida County Republican Committee, told a conservative blogger that he’s written off the election. (He thinks a Democrat will win.)

I asked Jim Ellis, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Committee, if there were Republican Party functionaries out there who have already abandoned Scozzafava.

“I have no disagreement with that proposition,” he said. “They’re either going to work with Hoffman or they’re going to lay back and do nothing.”

Ellis said he would continue to work for the Republican nominee. Jim Kelly, a conservative activist who briefly tried to seek the party’s nomination, told me things were “fractured” among the Republican base.

“I’ve received a phone call from two county leaders and they said, ‘This was a big mistake.’ We knew it in our heart of hearts,” Kelly said, declining, of course, to say who called.

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, who considers himself more conservative than his colleague Scozzafava, disagreed.

“I think you’ve got to look at the next poll, because if it’s close, I don’t think you make that determination. You stick with your endorsed candidate,” Tedisco told me. “I think it says a very bad message to not only this state, but other states, when our local chairmen decide on a candidate, and that’s a part of our problem. When you settle on a candidate after a process, you support that candidate.”

If elected, Hoffman would caucus with Republicans and would seek the Republican line for reelection, his spokesman Rob Ryan said. So there won’t be much of a difference from a partisan perspective.

The problem with this easy cruise is Hoffman. He’s not particularly nimble, in terms of his presentation, and it’s not apparent that he has a particularly good grasp of the issues. I found this when we spoke about health care, and Jude Seymour seemed struck by some of Hoffman’s non-answers before the editorial board of the Watertown Daily Times.

Scozzafava’s people point this out. Matt Burns, her campaign spokesman, said Hoffman is “grossly unable to represent the people of the 23rd Congressional District when he can’t even answer questions or agree to debate the issues.”

The thing is that most people—myself included—have written off Hoffman as a mere spoiler. We shouldn’t have assumed.

  Is There a Hoffman Scenario?