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Scozzafava had made her decision to withdraw in the face of polls showing her sliding to third place behind Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman whose campaign caught fire with the help of conservative activists and endorsements from well-known national GOP figures like Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson and Tim Pawlenty.
"It's not in the cards for me to be your representative, but I strongly believe Bill is the only candidate who can build upon John McHugh's lasting legacy in the U.S. Congress," Scozzafava said in a statement.
"In Bill Owens, I see a sense of duty and integrity that will guide him beyond political partisanship. He will be an independent voice devoted to doing what is right for New York. Bill understands this district and its people, and when he represents us in Congress he will put our interests first," she said.
Owens welcomed the endorsement, saying "Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava has been an honorable public servant for years now and I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her commitment to her principles. While we disagree on certain issues, we share a dedication to serving the best interests of Upstate New York and the Obama administration's efforts to get our economy back on track."
After Scozzafava's announcement yesterday, Hoffman had issued a statement saying, "We would like to acknowledge the class and dignity with which Mrs. Scozzafava conducted her campaign."
Scozzafava's endorsement leaves open the question of how many of the 20 percent of voters who the most recent poll said supported her will switch their allegiance to Hoffman or Owens. Owens led Hoffman in the two most recent polls by a point when it was a three-way race.
On ABC's This Week, moderator George Stephanopoulos, interviewing senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, said "I know that the president's political team is hoping to convince her to throw her support to the Democrat," to which she responded "We would love ... of course, have her support.
Scozzafava told the Watertown (NY) Times "that nobody asked me to get out" even though Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele quickly embraced Hoffman's candidacy.
Reflecting on the conservative activists and national GOP figures who helped fuel Hoffman's challenge to her, Scozzafava told the Times, "It struck me at the time that there was a little irony in it. Our congressional race had become a referendum on issues far from here. Our area had become the battleground for people from outside the congressional district. And after the election is over, all of them will get back on their buses and go back home."
The Times today endorsed Owens.
The Siena College poll released yesterday that helped convince Scozzafava the game was up had Owens at 36 percent and Hoffman at 35 percent, much the same as a Daily Kos/Research 2000 survey that preceded it. Public Policy Polling had been in the field for a new poll when Scozzafava abruptly quit and it was showing that Hoffman had opened up a 46 percent to 26 percent lead over Hoffman with Scozzafava at 17 percent. (PPP's Tom Jensen cautions, though, that those numbers were not weighted by party).
Polling analyst Charles Franklin, writing at Pollster.com, says that two most direct measures that can be drawn from the Siena poll of where Scozzafava's supporters might go (besides sticking with her since she is still going to be on the ballot) are current vote choice and the favorability rating of each candidate.
"When we try to parse the Scozzafava voters, they mostly look like a tossup, with at most a sliver of extra support for Owens," said Franklin. "But at most a sliver."
Fifty percent of Scozzafava supporters have an unfavorable view of Owens compared to 19 percent who see him favorably and 24 percent who expressed no opinion. Hoffman is seen unfavorably by 57 percent and favorably by by 15 percent among them, with 28 percent having no opinion.
Given those numbers, polling analyst Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com says, "The reality is that a lot of Scozzafava's ex-supporters, many of whom don't like either Hoffman or Owens, simply won't vote. And some of them will still wind up casting their ballots for Scozzafava undaunted, as she'll still appear on the ballot and may have made herself something of a sympathetic figure."
"Certainly, it would seem to help Hoffman if Scozzafava decided to endorse him -- but only 15 percent of Scozzafava's voters had a favorable view of Hoffman, so they aren't going to come over easily, if at all," Silver wrote before news of Scozzafava's endorsement broke.
Taking the guessing game further, Silver observed that "although a majority of Scozzafava's supporters are Republican (about 62 percent, by my reckoning), it is safe to assume that they are mostly rather moderate Republicans, because almost all the conservative Republicans had already gone over to Hoffman."
However, Ed Gillespie, onetime Republican Party chairman and counselor to former President Bush, predicted on ABC "that if you look at the 20 percent that Scozzafava was getting in that poll, I suspect that breaks about 3-1 to Hoffman at the end of the day."
Meanwhile, Democrats jumped on the fracas in the New York race to depict the GOP as a party that had been taken captive by its right wing.
"I think it sends a clear message to moderates within that party that there's no room at the inn for them. That's why you see Republican identification in polls at a historic low," said senior White House adviser David Axelrod on CBS' Face the Nation. On ABC, Jarrett said, "It's rather telling when the Republican Party forces out a moderate Republican and it says I think a great deal about where the Republican Party leadership is right now."
From the Republican side, Gillespie said on ABC that the outcome was the right one: "A lot of Republicans said, wait a second, she wasn't a moderate Republican ... She is a liberal Republican" out of step with GOP voters in the district. He noted that she had been selected by party chairmen in the district and not through a primary.
On CNN's State of the Union, House Minority leader John Boehner brushed aside Democratic assertions that what happened in New York was evidence that conservative wing of the party was intent on forcing out moderates.
"This is a pretty unusual situation," Boehner said. "You had seven county chairmen who chose Dede to be our nominee. And clearly, she would be on the left side of our party, a conservative decided to leave the Republican Party and sign up on the conservative party ticket, which is allowed in New York."
"We accept moderates in our party and we want moderates in our party," Boehner said.
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