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Republican State Sen. Dede Scozzafava today dropped out of the race for an upstate New York House seat after a campaign by a Conservative Party opponent caught fire with help from the GOP's right and siphoned off most of her support.
The Republican National Committee quickly endorsed the conservative, Doug Hoffman, in the race against his remaining active opponent, Democrat Bill Owens. The seat had been held by Republican John McHugh until President Obama chose him to be Army Secretary earlier this year.
"The Republican National Committee respects Dede's decision to suspend her campaign," said RNC chairman Michael Steele. "This selfless act of releasing her supporters provides voters with the opportunity to unite around a candidate who shares Republican principles and will serve the interests of his constituents."
As Hoffman has done during the campaign, Steele tried to tie Owens to national Democrats, saying Hoffman would stand "in opposition to the liberal policies of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi."
In his own statement, Hoffman called Owens "Nancy Pelosi's handpicked candidate" and criticized out-of-the-district money and support flowing to Owens' campaign that he said was coming from Acorn, big labor, abortion rights and other groups.
For his part, Owens sought to link Hoffman to former President Bush. "Voters have a clear choice on Tuesday: they can elect to go back to the George Bush economic agenda, or they can vote to move forward," he said in a statement. "Doug Hoffman and the Club for Growth's extremist agenda won't do a thing to get our economy moving again."
Owens was referring to the conservative group which announced in mid-October it was launching a $300,000 television ad campaign on behalf of Hoffman.
Conservative activists had objected to Scozzafava's support of gay and abortion rights, as well as some of her stands on economic issues.
Scozzafava acknowledged her sharp drop in the polls in the three way race - she came in third in a poll released today - and added, in a statement, that what "I've come to accept is that in today's political arena, you must be able to back up your message with money - and as I've been outspent on both sides, I've been unable to effectively address many of the charges that have been made about my record."
She ducked a question about whether she would support Hoffman in an interview with newzjunky.com, an upstate New York news site. Asked directly whether she would back Hoffman, she said only, "I'm allowing all the Republican chairs to decide what they need to do for the betterment of the party. I haven't had conversations with all the chairs at this point. I do anticipate having that type of conversation very soon."
She said, "I think at times my record was mis-represented" during the campaign.
Scozzafava's name will remain on the ballot but she said "victory is unlikely" and it remains to be seen whether she still might get enough votes to affect the outcome of the race.
The question now, looking towards the 2010 House midterms, is the extent to which the GOP's conservative wing will challenge other Republican candidates they consider too moderate.
In the case of the New York race, Republican notables like Sarah Palin, Dick Armey Tim Pawlenty and Fred Thompson endorsed Hoffman.
"Republicans and conservatives around the country are sending an important message to the Republican establishment in their outstanding grassroots support for Doug Hoffman: no more politics as usual," Palin had written on her Facebook page.
A Siena College poll released today found Owens locked in a 36 percent to 35 percent battle with Hoffmann. Scozzafava dropped to 20 percent with 9 percent undecided.
That came on the heels of a Daily Kos/Research 2000 survey in which Owens led Hoffman by 33 percent to 32 percent with 21 percent for Scozzafava.
At the beginning of October, a Siena poll had Scozzafava at 35 percent, Owens at 33 percent and Hoffman at 20 percent.
Scozzafava's backing among fellow Republicans had fallen in the Siena poll from 47 percent (not high in the first place) to 27 percent over the course of the month while Hoffman's had risen among Republicans from 22 percent to 50 percent. Owens, who started the month at 48 percent among Democrats, had solidified that support at 66 percent, though that's not a particularly high number from a party's standard bearer.
Independents broke 40 percent for Hoffman, 35 percent for Owens and 15 percent for Scozzafava.
"Momentum is important in political campaigns," said Siena's Steven Green. "Heading into the final weekend of the campaign, Owens has shown slow, steady momentum, particularly with Democratic and independent voters. With the exception of Democrats, however, Hoffman has picked up considerable steam with voters of virtually every demographic, and particularly with Republican, younger and Catholic voters. He has picked up 10 points in the region he does best in, 12 points in the region Owens wins and 15 points in Scozzafava's home territory."
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