Republicans at the brink in NY-23?

As the weeks grind by, I’m hearing more back-room chatter from Republicans that this election may be slipping through their fingers, despite the apparent vulnerability of Democratic Rep. Bill Owens.

Mr. Owens won a special election victory less than a year ago, inching across the finish line by the narrowest of margins.  Since then, Democratic policies and President Barack Obama have lost some luster with voters.

So why aren’t Republicans capitalizing?  Put bluntly, they despise and distrust each other.

When I talk to GOP stalwarts — the kind of folks who are generally supporting Mr. Doheny — they express open skepticism about their ability to partner with the tea party activists who are supporting Doug Hoffman.

Nine out of eleven county committees have backed Mr. Doheny, often uncorking harsh criticism on Mr. Hoffman, his familiarity with their communities and issues.

Will they pivot to support Mr. Hoffman enthusiastically if he wins?  It’s hard to imagine.

Mr. Hoffman, meanwhile, has refused to commit to stepping out of the race if he loses the Republican primary.  That raises the specter of another three-way race, with a divided conservative vote.

Mr. Hoffman’s most prominent regional backer, UNYTEA’s Mark Barie, has blasted the GOP as ineffectual and suggested that party leaders have lost their way.

That’s a lot of friendly fire that conservatives are directing at one-another, without much ammo left over for Mr. Owens.

Meanwhile, some of the Republican Party’s most prominent figures are making nice with the Democrat.

Plattsburgh Mayor Don Kasprzak praised his efforts in Washington, while Moriah supervisor Tom Scozzafava openly endorsed Mr. Owens’ re-election bid.

I know some In Box readers are impatient with this kind of horse-racey stuff — and I promise that we’ll talk a lot more about the issues as the weeks go on.  But here’s why this stuff matters.

If this election begins to look like another embarrassing circus for Republicans, national leaders — and big donors — will keep their distance.

That will make it much harder for Mr. Doheny or Mr. Hoffman to gather the resources needed to battle Bill Owens down the stretch.

Issues don’t matter if you can’t afford to get your message out, or rally voter drives, or pay the kind of staff that’s needed across a vast congressional district.

If Conservatives and Republicans do want to make this race competitive, they need a serious sit-down meeting soon, one that leads to the rebuilding of a workable coalition.

One could imagine meaningful concessions being made on both sides. If the county committees withdraw their endorsements for Mr. Doheny, for example, would Mr. Hoffman commit to stepping aside if he loses the primary?

This kind of amity may be impossible at this point.  After last year’s disastrous special election effort, personalities, philosophies, and egos have become bitterly entangled.

Both sides seem firmly committed to their fratricidal battle, despite the threat of permanent marginalization.

And some of the issues that divide them are significant.  The fact that Mr. Doheny supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy disqualifies him from consideration in the eyes of some conservatives.

But unless some kind of accord is reached, this district that was once a GOP stronghold may go almost by default to the Democrats.

After another term in office, Mr. Owens’ incumbency (and the congressional redistricting that’s likely to come after the 2010 census) could make him nearly impossible to dislodge.


17 Comments on “Republicans at the brink in NY-23?”

  1. Mateo says:

    I think the Conservative Party already said they are endorsing Hoffman, while the Independent Party are endorsing Doheny. Does that mean they will both be on the Nov. ballot under these respective parties?

  2. Brian Mann says:

    Matt Doheny has said unequivocally that he will drop out of the race if he loses the Republican primary. He will not appear on the Independent line under those circumstances.

    Doug Hoffman has declined to make that pledge, insisting that there is simply no way that he can lose.

    –Brian, NCPR

  3. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    I noticed a clip on Newzjunky a moment ago of Mr. Hoffman’s Tea party rally in Watertown yesterday. The caption mentioned a crowd of about 70 people on hand. Seems a wee bit small for one of the largest cities in the district. It also noted that he has about 800 hundred signatures total at this point in time of the over 1200 needed in order to get on the Republican primary ballot. Maybe that’s not unusual and perhaps I’m wrong about this, but that doesn’t seem like a lot of support for Mr. Hoffman given we’re only a few months away from the primary. Add to that trouble raising donations (as speculated in an article in the Plattsburg newspaper a few weeks ago) and it would appear the Mr. Hoffman has a steep uphill climb to the Republican nomination.

  4. cement says:

    hoffman is, without question, the best intentioned and, ideologically, the best qualified of the 3 to be the congressman in ny-23.

    however, he won’t get anywhere near the office. it is a pity that he will win neither the primary nor the general election. the “machinery” is piled up and lined up against him.

  5. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    “hoffman is, without question, the best intentioned and, ideologically, the best qualified of the 3 to be the congressman in ny-23.’

    Why do you feel this way? Please be specific. Thanks.

  6. Mateo says:

    “hoffman is, without question, the best intentioned and, ideologically, the best qualified of the 3 to be the congressman in ny-23.”

    There certainly are huge questions about that. It appeared that he knew the least about local issues in the 23rd CD.

    Also, the only “machine” I have seen are the groups from outside the 23rd who are supporting Hoffman like Dick Army and Faux News,

  7. cement says:

    to clapton and mateo:

    the top 3 issues in this election are jobs, jobs and jobs. that’s true here and around the nation.

    locally, ft. drum is huge and doug is a former army reserve with ties to ft. drum. the WDT positioned him as knowing nothing about ft. drum and caring even less about it. those are flat-out lies that caught on with the peeps.

    as for matt, he is a hard-working, knowledgeable candidate who would meet EVERY voter in ny-23 if he could.

    honestly, it’s too bad there isn’t room for both of them.

  8. mervel says:

    I think it’s a big problem for them. I am a registered independent from St. Lawrence County; and often vote for Republicans but not always, I am also pro-life. I don’t think Hoffman knows anything about St. Lawrence County nor cares for that matter given his lack of knowledge about the issues here. On the other hand Doheny is pro-choice and is a new-comer. I look at Owens who is more conservative socially than Doheny at least on abortion and say to myself that this guy seems to at least care about the North Country and will also try to bring home some bacon. I will probably vote for Owens.

  9. Dialla says:

    Why don’t they just give it to him? What happened to him in the special was a complete scandal.

  10. Peter Walsh says:

    Owens voted NO on the Stepak Amendment and YES on ObamaCare. Endorsed by NARAL. (I guess he isn’t “conservative socially … at least on abortion”).

    Hoffman will win the primary. If GOP County Committee folks want to vote for Owens, well, it is a free country, fellas.

  11. JoeCollins says:

    Those same county party officials are the idiots that brought darling Dede Scozzafava to the table last year. Politically she was farther left than Mr Owens, and on her way out of the race ended up endorsing Mr Owens – out of pure spite. Are these the same noble and esteemed county party officials to whom you refer? Get real. NY23rd Repubs need a serious shaking up by the people – the voters. Let’s get ready to rumble.

  12. mervel says:

    Hoffman can’t win up here, period there are simply not enough conservatives; so if they put him up or if he runs a third party, Owens wins without a doubt. Doheny and Owens would be a close race, I was not aware of Owen’s having an endorsement from NARAL that would change my calculation greatly and will have to re-consider; but still you have two pro-choice candidates so I would choose the one who can bring home the most dollars to the North Country and that probably would be Owens.

  13. jmac says:

    Interesting Mervel, just show you the “Pork” and forget about the Constitution.

  14. Randy says:

    In response to Mervel, where do we think the “dollars to the North County will coming from? More taxation. I guess the public pays again. Give me a break!

    Joe Collins comments are right on the mark.

  15. Bret4207 says:

    Jeeze Mervel, just when I think you’re on track and you go for the PORK. So you’ll sell your vote to Owens in exchange for someone elses money? Great, more of the same…

  16. Mervel says:

    Yes I would.

  17. mervel says:


    The dollars to the North Country in Federal programs do not come from north country taxes we are far to poor to pay our fair share. If this were a state issue yes I would vote for the person who would reduce our taxes.

    But on a federal basis we get far far more in income than we pay out in federal income taxes. Who would be better at keeping Fort Drum, HEAP, Unemployment Benefits, Food Stamps and Medicaid dollars flowing?

    In St. Lawrence County it was recently reported in the Watertown Times that 35% of people in the county get some sort of benefit from DSS be it food stamps or Temporary assistance or Medical Care, that does not even include HEAP which would probably take that number up to 45-50%. Does anyone think Jefferson county would have any sort of economy at all if Fort Drum were closed or radically cut back?

    It is fine to have a philosophical discussion about federal spending the fact is if you want to be employed in the North Country you better support the person who can bring home the federal dollars.

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