Gov. Sets Special Election Date As Candidates For Congress Keep Moving

The slow motion race to replace Congressman John McHugh has finally hit full stride.

Gov. David Paterson Tuesday signed a proclamation that marks Nov. 3 as the date for the special election to replace McHugh, who was named Secretary of the Army by President Obama. The date is the same as the regular November elections, a move that will save the 11 counties of the 23rd Congressional District the expense of running a full election for just one office.

“This special election will ensure that the residents of all or parts of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Governor Paterson said in announcing the voting date. “I encourage all eligible voters to come out to the polls on November 3, 2009 to select their Member of Congress.”

The closeness of the election date will provide a challenge to those who intend to cast an absentee vote in the Congressional race. This is particularly true for members of the military serving in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Syracuse Post-Standard reports that Hans von Spakovsky, a former US Justice Department official in charge of voting rights under President Bush, criticized the decision to hold the election so soon and said if he was still in the Justice Department, he’d sue the state.

“I frankly don’t understand why they think it would be a problem for them to set the date of the election 60 days from now,” he told the Post’s Mark Weiner.

Von Spakovsky atracted attention for allegations that he used his position to try to suppress Democratic votes.

The state settled an earlier lawsuit by extending the final date for receiving absentee ballots from overseas.

There are three candidates in the race. Republican Dede Scozzafava of Gouverneur, a member of the State Assembly, may be the frontrunner, and probably would be, if not for the presence of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, a businessman from Lake Placid. Hoffman sought the Republican endorsement but lost it. He initially pledged to help Scozzafava in an e-mail, but changed his mind as conservtive anger rose over Scozzafava’s stands on gay marriage and abortion. Plattsburgh businessman and registered independent Bill Owens is the Democratic party’s candidate.

Scozzafava hailed the news of a date for the election, saying in a statement, “It’s official. The campaign to replace John McHugh in Congress is on. I am confident that my platform of creating more good-paying jobs, reforming health care, and fighting for our seniors, is reflective of the peoples’ priorities.”

There has not yet been an independent poll of the 11-county district. The two polls made public so far, an internal poll by Hoffman and a poll from the conservative Club For Growth, which supports Hoffman, show a tight thre-way race.

Hoffman is slicing conservative support away from Scozzafava, announcing in recent days endorsements from the Club For Growth, former Presidential candidate Fred Thompson and from a political action committee tied to late President Ronald Reagan. Prominent conservative blogs, such as Powerline, have also urged support for Hoffman over Scozzafava.

Each candidate is on the air with TV ads, though in Scozzafava’s case, the ads are from the campaign arm of Republicans in Congress and not from her own campaign. Owens released a new ad this week: