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Conservative Douglas Hoffman from Lake Placid...
Conservative Douglas Hoffman from Lake Placid...

Doug Hoffman: From humble roots to right-wing darling

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The race to replace John McHugh in Congress is down to its last two weeks. The high octane and even higher spending campaign is spewing attacks and accusations all over TV and radio as national politicos manage the candidates' every move. We're trying to break through the din with a series of candidate profiles. You can listen online to the profiles of Democrat Bill Owens and Republican Dede Scozzfava, which aired this week. Today, it's Conservative Douglas Hoffman's turn. Hoffman blew the race wide open with an aggressive challenge of Scozzafava's Republican credentials. He's building rock-star status among the country's most polarizing conservatives. He's shed the third party "spoiler" status and has picked up lots of ground in the polls. All this from a family-man accountant born of hardship in the Adirondacks. David Sommerstein has this profile.

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...with his ardent supporters in Watertown.

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On Wednesday, Douglas Hoffman found himself on the biggest of right-wing national stages - with Glenn Beck of FOX News, on his radio show.

BECK: So Doug Hoffman is on the phone with me now.  I don't know anything about Doug.  HOFFMAN: "Good morning, Glenn.  It's a pleasure to be on your show this morning.

Beck put Hoffman to a litmus test of his conservative credentials - only partly in fun.

BECK & HOFFMAN: Are you just an attorney?  "No."  Are you or have you ever been a member of the communist party?  "Absolutely not."  Do you believe in the free market system?  "Absolutely do."  Are you a fan of Chairman Mao?  "No."  So, Doug, have you ever run before for anything?  "Absolutely not.  I have never wanted to be a politician and I never had the desire until recently."

It was the North Country GOP's selection of moderate Dede Scozzafava for Congress that propelled Hoffman to become the standard bearer of tea-party, anti-abortion, anti-ACORN bedrock conservatism.

Dede was ranked 15 of out 100 for her conservative rating for her 2008 voting record in Albany.  The only person with a worse rating than she had was Shelly Silver who was majority leader of the Democrats.

New York's Conservative Party endorsed Hoffman.  He was widely viewed as a third-party spoiler who could damage the Republican's chances. 

But then a Siena College poll put Hoffman leading among independents and well within the reach of victory, says pollster Steven Greenberg.

He may be the ultimate spoiler and take out the Republican and Democratic candidates and become the new Congressman.

It would be an improbable path for a man born to a single-mother living a hard-scrabble life in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

I grew up poor, but I never felt poor.  I think I was 15 or 16 and I built my own car because I couldn't afford one.  And I had one of the nicest cars in town because I did it myself.

It took Hoffman three stints at North Country colleges to graduate with an accounting degree.  He and his wife, Carol, moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Hoffman became a CPA and worked for Price-Waterhouse.  He moved back to Lake Placid and became the COO for the 1980 Winter Olympics.

But the agency that ran the Games emerged 6 million dollars in debt.   New York bailed Lake Placid out.  Hoffman says the economic impact has far eclipsed that red ink.

How he led the directors financially was awesome.

Republican Shirley Seney is a former town supervisor of North Elba, which includes Lake Placid.  She also's the aunt of Hoffman's wife.

It was difficult to deal with a lot of the different groups, but Doug did it.  He did it professionally with a lot of character and a great deal of respect.

Hoffman settled down in Lake Placid.  He started his own accounting firm.  He and his three children now own 8 local businesses.  Hoffman channeled his love of cars into an annual antique auto show that raises money for the local ski club.

Cheryl Breen-Randall directs the Adirondack Medical Center Foundation, where Hoffman has been the board's secretary-treasurer for six years.

He is open to discussion and conversation with the issues.  He's a very dedicated conscientious board member.

But on many issues related to the 23rd Congressional district, Hoffman is a mystery.  He has been largely silent on issues like acid rain in the Adirondacks, invasive species in the St. Lawrence River, the low milk price for farmers, the rooftop highway.

And he's been sending mixed messages on fiscal conservatism.  He's against the federal stimulus.  He opposes President Obama's health care reform plan.  But take the North Country's heavy dependence on government for everything from jobs to highways.  Hoffman runs a hard-line small government campaign, yet he says this.

Government services have to continue, especially the military.  And government programs such as prisons up here have to continue.

When pressed just last week what big chunks of the budget he'd cut to lower taxes, Hoffman attacked member earmarks in Congress.  But he offered no specifics.

We're going to be pro-taxpayer and make sure that when we're passing budgets, we don't have hidden agendas, hidden special projects, special interest group diversion of our taxpayer dollars.

That talk pleases the national anti-tax group Club for Growth, which has spent more than 600,000 dollars on media ads for Hoffman.

[hoffman ad]

CHANT: We want Doug!  We want Doug!  We want Doug!

At the campaign's Watertown office recently, an adoring crowd of about 40 volunteers bemoaned government excess, scoffing at every mention of President Obama.

One supporter wanted Hoffman to talk more about his social conservatism, his opposition to same sex marriage and abortion, the issues that most distinguish him from Republican Dede Scozzfava.  But Hoffman barely took the bait, instead referring generally to family values.

Well, I appreciate that comment and I agree with you 100%.  What I've been focusing my campaign on is the immediate needs of helping the economy, helping to get back to more jobs in this area.  But you're absolutely right, I do have those conservative values.  I have the conservative roots.

Republicans have a huge enrollment edge in the 23rd, with a lot of independents, too.  But this is moderate New York, not the Bible Belt.  Hoffman is treading carefully by sticking to his economic messages.

Which brings us back to right-wing talk-show hosts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Glenn Beck...

BECK:  All you have to do is say, "my opponent was endorsed by ACORN and she's a Republican."  [laughs]  HOFFMAN: "Right that certainly helped a lot, that ACORN thing."

The Conservative movement has embraced Hoffman as a poke in the eye to moderate Republicans.  And Hoffman seems to be comfortable with that.  He campaigned in Watertown and Syracuse with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, an engineer of the 1994 Republican Revolution who's closely tied to today's Tea Party movement.

The question is how comfortable will voters be with Hoffman in a district where President Obama still has a 56% approval rating.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein in Watertown.

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