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Conservative-Republican feud reaches "watershed moment" in 23rd CD race

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There was an unexpected face among Democrat Andrew Cuomo's entourage yesterday in Lowville: Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava. She says she's supporting Cuomo's bid for governor because he's got the best chance of reforming Albany. Scozzafava made headlines in last fall's bitter special election for the 23rd Congressional District seat, which had been held by Republicans for over a century. Democrat Bill Owens went on to win that race over Conservative Doug Hoffman.

Owens is defending the seat this fall. Once again, there's a divisive battle shaping up within the Republican Party, as Hoffman challenges the party local leadership on their choice of Jefferson County businessman Matt Doheny. Brian Mann has more.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Last year Franklin County Republican Party chairman Jim Ellis was at Hoffman headquarters on election night, supporting the Tea Party insurgent from Lake Placid who had shouldered aside Dede Scozzafava and come within a few percentage points of defeating Democrat Bill Owens. But at a press conference this week Ellis argued that this year Hoffman's political campaign had fizzled.    

"He's going to have to fess up in one way or another. And I think the 'fessing up takes place based on the fact of how much he's been able to do and how many people he's been able to convince that he's the guy who should be the candidate. And I think if he fails on both counts he shout pull out," Ellis said to WNBZ reporter John Alexander.

Also at the press conference was Franklin County legislator Paul Maroon, another conservative whose assessment of the Hoffman campaign was scathing. "I try really hard not to support losers. I really go out of my way not to support losers. I go out of my way not to support losers and I'm pretty confident that although Mr. Hoffman is a nice man--I know him, I know his family--I think Matt Doheny is going to win this race."

Maroon pointed out that Hoffman has failed to garner the support of any Republican committees, even in Essex and Franklin counties, which he calls home. "I can tell you this. If I was running for state or federal office and I didn't get the backing of my county committee, I wouldn't run," Maroon says.

Doug Hoffman's campaign spokesman Rob Ryan pointed to an internal poll funded by Hoffman that showed him holding a wide lead over Matt Doheny. Ryan described the outpouring of support from Republicans as similar to last year's miscalculation with the nomination of Dede Scozzafava. "What you're having is a couple of political leaders that are scared. They know that Doug Hoffman is ahead by 32 points in a poll and they know that Matt Doheny is going to lose. It's going to a repeat of last year when the party bosses backed Dede Scozzafava," Ryan said.

Ryan didn't reply to Maroon's remarks about the campaign. But he did say that Hoffman stands on solid ground: "What I know is that Doug Hoffman is the real conservative in this race and that last election Doug Hoffman got 46 % of the vote."

While Doug Hoffman's Republican Party support has been tepid at best, he's gotten strong support from the region's largest Tea Party group. UNYTEA leader Mark Barie said that he's convinced Ellis and Maroon are reading the race wrong. "I don't think they're deliberately misreading the political tea leaves, I think they're incapable of reading them correctly. The reason being this is a unique situation. I don't think they've seen this type of situation before. What they refuse to see or are unable to see is the grassroots support is with Mr. Hoffman.

One thing is increasingly clear: this is a no-holds-barred contest between two visions of the future GOP with the Tea Party on one side and Republican leaders on the other. Mark Barie calls the outcome of the race a "watershed moment": "If Doug Hoffman loses the primary I think the Tea Party movement in the North Country will be pronounced dead whether it should be or not...it's a winner-take-all and UNYTEA's betting the farm."

Franklin county GOP chair Jim Ellis also described this a watershed moment as the last best-opportunity for Republicans to take the 23rddistrict seat. ""After reviewing what I think is a long-time campaign...I feel Matt's the only chance we've got to the work necessary to return this seat to a safe vote against Nancy Pelosi," Ellis said.

While this battle rages on, Democrat Bill Owens is unopposed in his primary which means he can reserve his campaign cash for the fall. This week The Hill newspaper reported that national Democrats are already reserving airtime on local TV and radio stations to help boost Owens in the North Country.

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