Star Power Arrives To Wake Up Sleepy Congressional Race

This is the week in which the sleepy race for Congress from our area woke up and became a top-tier battle.

Top Republicans and Democrats stepped up this week to support their candidates, including President Obama, ending months of speculation that one party or the other would not worry about this race as it would not change the balance of power in Washington either way.

Republican Dede Scozzafava of Gouverneur, Democrat Bill Owens of Plattsburgh and Conservative Doug Hoffman of Lake Placid are in a three-way battle that the only independent poll of the race found was too close to call.

Scozzafava won the backing this week of State Senator Joe Griffo of Rome, the National Rifle Association, a labor group in her home area and the state’s new GOP Chairman, Ed Cox, who will hold a New York City fundraiser for her. Owens responded by earning the support of the state Working Families Party, a group closely tied to Democrats but which had endorsed Scozzafava as an Assemblywoman. And Owens turned up the star power by sending out a fundraising e-mail from former President Bill Clinton and announcing a fundraiser to be hosted by President Obama, who is popular in the Republican-leaning district. Hoffman won his party’s official support this week when the statewide group met in Central Square to make him their nominee. He won the support of the state Right To Life party, the Susan B. Anthony List, the Eaagle Forum and the American Conservative Union, among others.

For months, political experts had said the 23rd Congressional District race mattered little. The district was reliably Republican, they said. Democrats could lose, but win by eliminating the district when they redraw political boundaries after the 2010 Census, they said. The loss of the seat would not hurt Republicans and the gain by Democrats wouldn’t help them, they said.

All of that was before Siena College’s most recent poll, showing Scozzafava with a tiny lead and losing significant Republican support to Hoffman because of her support for gay marriage and abortion.

But Scozzafava came under withering attack this week from within her party. The Capitol Hill political publication Politico said conservatives raised their voices and raised hell with the National Republican Congressional Committee, Pete Sessions, about NRCC’s support of Scozzafava:

After Sessions conceded that Scozzafava’s record on gay marriage and abortion fell short of where those at the lunch wanted it to be, he sought to defend her record on taxes. At that point, according to two sources who were present, the Texas congressman came under forceful pushback from several conservative leaders who insisted Scozzafava fell far short in that area as well.

“I was flabbergasted that he could come into a meeting of conservatives and be as defiant as he was,” said one person who was at the Free Congress Foundation’s Paul Weyrich lunch meeting, adding that the Texas congressman “stuck a finger in our eye.”

One attendee called her “a radical, ultraleftist”. Another called her a “flaming liberal”.

Scozzafava may have been, as party leaders have said, the best Republican andidate for a moderate district, but her candidacy is highlighting the cracks in the GOP’s uneasy coalition of economic and social conservatives. Several conservative groups have called on their members to withhold donations to the national Republican fundraising committees over the party’s support of Scozzafava.

There were no new polls on the race released this week, but one poll did make news. Republicans were due to release a poll on the race this week, but have withheld the results, claiming “margin of error issues”.

Some new ads:

DCCC on Scozzafava and Empire Zone economic development legislation:

NRCC attacks Hoffman