NY-23 race first test of tea party power
By: Alex Isenstadt
October 22, 2009 08:31 PM EST
Tea party activists from across the nation are rallying around the House special
election in upstate New York, viewing it as the first electoral test of the nascent conservative movement’s political muscle. Organizers up and down the East Coast report that activists are making their way into the campaign offices of Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman, with the volunteers focusing their efforts in Oswego, Madison and Jefferson counties. While tea party organizers say the election is a unique opportunity to hold the Democratic and Republican parties to account, much of their energy is being directed against Dede Scozzafava, the GOP establishment-backed nominee whom they view as a squishy moderate who represents all that is wrong with the Republican Party.
“I went here from Washington, D.C., saying, ‘Now what?’” said Jennifer Bernstone, an organizer for Central New York 912, a Syracuse-based tea party group that so far has about 300 members getting out the vote for Hoffman. “Well, here’s the ‘Now what.’”
Numerous anti-Scozzafava websites have emerged across the blogosphere.
Dana Loesch, a St. Louis-based activist, has launched “Dump Dede,” a site that tracks nationwide conservative opposition to Scozzafava and urges viewers to “throw your support behind conservatism, ladies and gents; the clock starts now.”
Michael Patrick Leahy, a Nashville, Tenn.-area tea party activist, has turned his Drudge Report-like TCOT Report into a constantly updated bulletin board of news and rumors slamming Scozzafava.
“Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, Washington Times, National Review, RedState Join Growing Avalanche of Other Conservatives Calling for Scozzafava to Withdraw from Race in NY 23rd,” blared the site’s headline Thursday afternoon. “They’re all making a concerted effort for Doug Hoffman, and they are making New York 23 a last stand,” said Erick Erickson, who has been urging tea party activists for months to ramp up electoral efforts against the Republican Party on his influential conservative blog RedState. “New York should be a hill to die on for conservative activists.”
Scozzafava faces Democrat Bill Owens and Hoffman in the Nov. 3 contest to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.). In New York, tea party activists have emerged as the ground troops for the small, grass-roots-oriented Hoffman campaign.
Bernstone, the CNY912 activist who in her day job works as an acting coach, said she now participates in nightly 9:30 p.m. conference calls with Hoffman campaign aides. “We are helping his organization get out the vote for what we believe is the better of the two candidates,” said William Lamar Wells, who heads up CNY912. “This is rapidly elevating.”
“We’re seeing a lot of tea party people coming into the office,” said Rob Ryan, a Hoffman spokesman. “In a very competitive election, they’re providing a lot of manpower to put Doug Hoffman over the top.”
For the tea party activists, the special election represents the next big event for the loosely confederated movement, which began earlier this year with local Tax Day “tea parties,” followed by town hall protests and a Sept. 12 March on Washington. “I think, nationally, the tea party movement to a person is supporting Hoffman,” said Leahy.
On Thursday, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), chairman of FreedomWorks, an organization that has played a role in coordinating tea party activities, personally endorsed Hoffman and implored his conservative followers to get on board.
“You’re sitting right in the eye of the storm. This country is at a crossroads,” Armey told supporters, according to an account in the Syracuse Post-Standard. “We have a special election. This is the game-changer. We’ve struggled with a Republican Party ... that has lost its way. They don’t remember about [President Ronald] Reagan. ... They don’t remember about small government. They let their thinking be controlled by self-serving political objects. And frankly, they made a lot of fools out of themselves.” FreedomWorks is now set to launch an aggressive effort to educate voters on what it says are the differences between Hoffman and Scozzafava.
Adam Brandon, a FreedomWorks spokesman, said the organization would have hundreds of members on the ground in the closing days of the contest and will distribute call lists to members across the country who can’t make it to upstate New York.
Armey himself is set to embark on a whistle-stop and media tour with Hoffman and will headline a fundraiser for the Conservative Party nominee. On Wednesday, Armey huddled with tea party activists who are playing a role in the race. According to an Oct. 15 Siena Research Institute poll, Owens has the support of 33 percent of likely voters, followed by Scozzafava at 29 percent and Hoffman at 23 percent. But Hoffman’s numbers were up 7 points during a two-week period, and Democratic and Republican insiders told POLITICO that Hoffman has now moved into second place ahead of Scozzafava, according to internal polls.
Asked to assess how much credit the Hoffman campaign would give to tea party activists in the event the Conservative Party candidate wins, Ryan said, “We would owe them a great deal of credit.”
For Scozzafava, the ramped-up tea party opposition has coincided with a rough campaign stretch. On Monday evening, she came under fire after reports circulated that her husband had called police after a Weekly Standard writer peppered her with a series of questions. Two days later, on Wednesday, Scozzafava, appearing exhausted, staged an awkward photo op in front of Hoffman’s campaign headquarters — surrounded by a sea of Hoffman supporters waving Hoffman campaign signs behind her.
“I think, whether it’s tea party folks or any other group, they have a right to support who they feel best represents them,” said Matt Burns, a Scozzafava spokesman. “I think it’s a healthy thing when there is political involvement from people at any level.”
Tea party activists, who maintain they are independent of either major party, say their involvement in the special election is proof they aren’t aligned with the Republican Party. “We’re not a part of the Republican Party, and I think that’s beginning to show to people,” said Wells.
Asked how his conservative-oriented organization felt about taking on the Republican Party, Brandon, the FreedomWorks spokesman, responded without missing a beat, “I feel as pure as can be. I have a smile on my face.”
“For those who criticize us as an arm of the GOP, I hope those folks are watching,” added Brandon.