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Hoffman confirms that he'll stay in NY-23 race even if he loses GOP primary

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Conservative Republican Doug Hoffman says he will continue his fight to win the 23rd district House seat, even if he loses the GOP primary later this month.

Hoffman will appear on the Conservative Party ballot line and says he's promised to continue campaigning against Republican Matt Doheny and Democrat Bill Owens.

As Brian Mann reports, the decision has infuriated many Republican leaders.

And it raises questions about the Republican Party's ability to take back a seat that had been a GOP stronghold since before the Civil War.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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At this week’s debate in Plattsburgh, reporter Joe LoTemplio with the Press-Republican newspaper asked Doug Hoffman the question that’s been on everyone’s mind.

“If you don’t win the primary, yes or no, will you stay in the race?” LoTemplio asked.

After a long pause, Hoffman answered, “I will win the primary.”

Pressed to clarify his answer, Hoffman, from Saranac Lake, confirmed that he will in fact remain on the ballot through November and will campaign actively.

“People think that I’m the spoiler because I say that I’m not going to get out of the race,” Hoffman said.  “But people who get on the Conservative Party line have to stay on the Conservative line once they take it.”

That decision was confirmed yesterday by Conservative Party chairman Michael Long in an interview with North Country Public Radio.

“The Conservative Party is not a political party that’s for rent,” Long said.  “When we endorse a candidate, it’s because we believe in the principles that he stands for, as we do with Doug Hoffman.”

Long added, “He earned the right to have a second shot at this, considering the fact that last year he got 46% of the vote on the Conservative Party line alone.”

But Hoffman’s opponent, Matt Doheny from Watertown, says he will drop out if he loses the primary, and won’t appear on the Independence Party line.

He insisted that Hoffman could throw the race back to the Democrats – and he blasted the Conservative Party for its stance.

“The reality is that there’s no competition for the Conservative Party.  It was given to [Hoffman] by one single person, [party chairman Michael Long] who lives in Brooklyn, New York,” Doheny said, adding, “That is truly the party boss.”

The prospect of a divided ticket terrifies many conservatives in the North Country, who are convinced that Plattsburgh Democrat Bill Owens remains vulnerable, despite his narrow win in the special election last year. 

Republicans hold an enrollment advantage of more than 45,000 voters. 

But Mark Barie, head of the tea party group UNYTEA acknowledged that a third party challenge could be devastating.

“We want Bill Owens out of there,” Barie said.  “I don’t see how a third party candidate can win in November.”

Barie says the tea party has scheduled a meeting for the day after the Republican Primary and will decide then who to support in the general election.

Meanwhile, some Republican leaders are so angry at Doug Hoffman and so unhappy with the way he’s run this campaign that they been urging him to drop out of the race even before the primary.

“He’s going to have to fess up in one way or another,” said Franklin County GOP chair Jim Ellis in July.  “I think he ought to pull out.”

But here’s the wrinkle.  In the new tea party era, many of Doug Hoffman’s core supporters aren’t actually all that interested in supporting the Republican Party.

At this week’s debate, organized by UNYTEA, many in the crowd said they thought Hoffman should stay in the race even if it means dividing the conservative vote.

“I think he should,” said Peter Guibord who lives in Plattsburgh. 

“He has the Conservative Party line and he has a lot of appeal.   A lot of people around the North Country…have been supporting him up to this point.  They would be very disappointed [if Hoffman dropped out].”

It’s been clear for months that the Conservative Party, the tea party movement and the Republican Party are deeply divided in the district.

They’re fractured over ideology and over personalities.  During the debate this week, Hoffman promised to fix all that if he wins the GOP primary this month. 

“I am going to fight like I am losing,” he said. “I am going to keep the support of the grassroots people and I’m going to win the primary.  And when I win the primary, I am going to reunite the Conservative and Republican parties.”

But Hoffman has failed to win the support of any of the GOP’s county chairs or committees — and his refusal to accept the outcome of the September 14th primary could make it hard to put all the pieces back together again. 

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