UPDATE: Dede's Out, Hoffman Up In NY-23

“It’s about time!” conservatives are tempted to say, as Republican National Chairman Michael Steele and the Republican leadership in the U.S. House weighed in for Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman in New York’s 23rd District.
Earlier Saturday, liberal “Republican” hopeful Dede Scozzafava suspended her campaign. State Assemblywoman  Scozzafava couldn’t raise money and several late polls showed her running third behind Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens (neither of whom she has endorsed in the special election Tuesday).

Her exodus from the race paves the way for other conservatives who stuck with the Republican nominee (Newt Gingrich) or voiced neutrality in the race (perhaps Mitt Romney) to finally come out for Hoffman, a CPA who is pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax, and against government bailouts.

The “last straw” for Scozzafava may well have been the endorsement of Hoffman Friday by a Republican considered more centrist than conservative:  former three-term New York Gov. George Pataki, who not only gave his blessings to Hoffman but will campaign with the Conservative hopeful throughout the district on Halloween.  Pataki is seriously exploring a bid for the Senate next year and will need the ballot line of the New York State Conservative Party to win.  

For many conservatives, of course, the nationally-watched race in the ten-county district is a seminal moment and they won’t quickly forgive or forget Gingrich, Romney and others for their position.  But they certainly will remember and hail conservatives who did cross party lines for principle.  Beginning with former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and ending with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and more than a dozen Republican House Members, a Who’s Who  have been steadily lining up for Hoffman over Scozzafava.  

And that massive cross-over extended to the “grass-roots,” in and outside the upstate New York district that has been in Republican hands since 1870.     

Just back from canvassing in the ten-county disrtict, Susan B. Anthony Fund head Marjorie Dannenfelser told me Friday that her pro-family political action committee brought in 150 volunteers to go door-to-door for Hoffman.  In addition, an independent expenditure by the SBA Fund to the tune of $150,000 had helped the insurgent candidate, she said.

“We have a big interest in keeping Republican women like Dede Scozzafava out of Congress and making sure that Republican women like [Minnesota Rep.] Michele Bachman get there,” Dannenfelser told me, “So you can say we are like EMILY’s List [the political action committee dedicated to sending pro-abortion women to Congress].”

Along with the SBA activists, movers and shakers in the tea party movement from across the country jetted in to the 23d District to enlist in Hoffman’s infantry.  Sources told me that “tea partiers” from at least ten states were arriving on the scene to stump for Hoffman Scozzafava.  Brian Campbell, a leader of the tea party movement and Republican U.S. House hopeful, came from faraway Colorado for what is increasingly becoming a cause célèbre for the 9/12 movement.

“I’m standing here talking to you in the Western corner of the district in a house of people I have never met,” Campbell told me Friday night,  “This is what the tea party movement is all about.  It’s the culmination of the movement we began and that got 300,000 people fed up with taxes and big government to go to the tea parties in April and September. “

Campbell, a self-styled political outsider and small businessman, added that “getting a conservative businessman like Doug elected in New York will prove it’s a conservative nation.  This is a referendum on the tea party movement.”  

Talk of national support for Hoffman usually elicited cries of “outsiders” and “blogosphere-driven campaign” from the Scozzafava camp.  But as I have been learning for the past week, this was not so.    

“Quite a number of us supported [Navy veteran] Paul Maroun for the [Republican] congressional nomination after John McHugh resigned [to become secretary of the army],” recalled Fulton County GOP Vice Chairman Bob Dugan, “But our county chairman [Sue McNiel] voted for Scozzafava.  Since the [ten] country chairmen were selecting the nominee, that was the only vote that counted.”

Noting that the wishes of the more conservative county committee members were not followed by their chairman, Dugan said that the nomination of Scozzafava by the conclave of ten county party leaders “split the Republican Party throughout the district.”  Now the same Maroun backers on the Fulton County Committee, he told me, “are all working for Doug Hoffman.  So is Paul himself.”

Almost surely, one result from the Scozzafava exodus and a Hoffman win will be an overhaul of the nomination process in special elections by New York Republicans.  A similar nomination of a weak candidate by county chairmen only almost surely cost the GOP the neighboring 20th District in a special election earlier this year. Just-elected State GOP Chairman Ed Cox is expected to name a commission to study how to open the procedure up to local party activists and perhaps create a caucus system to select candidates when vacancies occur (Debt-riddled New York State will almost certainly not be able to afford a primaries for special elections).

For the past two weeks, the race in NY-23 has dominated political forums and discussion.  This Tuesday, it is considered one of the “big three races,” along with contests for governor in Virginia and New Jersey.  And it seems a foregone conclusion that, whatever the outcome, this special election will be talked of and analyzed for weeks and months to come.