Less than a week after he lost the nationally-watched special election for Congress in New York’s 23rd District by a margin of 49% to 47% of the vote, Doug Hoffman said he is “seriously considering” another race in 2010.
“And the difference next time is that there will be a primary in which the nomination will be made by Republican voters,” said Hoffman, who ran on the Conservative Party ticket after a conclave of the ten Republican county chairmen (one for each county in the district) gave the nomination to liberal State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.
After a nationwide tide of Republicans began switching to Hoffman, the embattled Scozzafava announced on the Saturday before the election she was “suspending” her campaign. A day later, after touching base with Democrats form the Obama White House to New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Scozzafava endorsed Democrat Bill Owens.
Was Owens’ endorsement by the renegade Republican pivotal to his capture of the seat of former Republican Rep. (and now Secretary of the Army) John McHugh? Two factors say yes. First, Scozzafava stayed on the ballot after she dropped out and gained enough votes to equal Owens’ margin of victory. Second, the media’s glee at her endorsement of Owens may have increased voter turnout for him.
Like virtually every Republican active in New York politics I talked to, Hoffman believes that the problem that resulted in Owens winning in the 23rd began with the Republicans’ backroom method for choosing nominees in special elections.
In three special elections for state senator, one in the neighboring 20th District earlier this year, and now the race for the McHugh seat, Republicans used that means of selecting nominees and Democrats won. State GOP Chairman Ed Cox has discussed opening the nomination process in special election to more grass roots activists and Hoffman told me: “I agree with him. We need to encourage something better and getting more people involved.”
The Defeat — and the Future
Like some of his campaign strategists I spoke to after the election, Hoffman believes that paid operatives from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and ACORN were key to his loss to Owens. In addition, he noted, thanks to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Owens enjoyed a huge spending advantage and was able to run TV spots during the World Series opener on the Sunday before the vote. The spots specifically attacked Hoffman — who had become the de facto Republican favorite after Scozzafava’s exodus — as someone backed by a group that wants to “privatize Social Security [an obvious reference to the Club for Growth].”
While Hoffman did get backing from the National Republican Congressional Committee in the three days after Scozzafava suspended her campaign, it was certainly not enough backing or time to overcome the DCCC broadsides.
Rather than dwell on why he lost, Hoffman paid tribute to those who almost made him one of the handful of people in the last century who were elected to Congress as neither a Democrat nor Republican.
Referring to former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and wife Jeri, Hoffman said “when they came on board, it was as though the cavalry had arrived. Fred and Jeri represented a turning point in our campaign because after they came out for me, we got a tremendous amount of new donations, and volunteers, and endorsements [from other national GOP figures]. They went out of their way for me.”
The former candidate also hailed Sarah Palin (whose endorsement brought in six figures in small donations almost overnight), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), pro-family leader Gary Bauer, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — “and a whole lot of people who signed on with me before it was cool.”
He singled out the “tea party movement,” in and outside the district, who rallied to his anti-tax and anti-bailout message after he became a candidate in August.
“They gave our campaign legs,” he said. “And I think when they canvassed and won over voters, they demonstrated we are a not a ‘fringe’ or ‘crazy’ movement.” Hoffman noted that on the same day he lost a close race, tea party activists helped propel anti-tax Republicans to victory in major county races in Nassau and Westchester Counties.
“We’re a political force that’s here to stay,” he added.