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Republicans going rogue in upstate New York

A New York congressional election, featuring a third-party conservative challenging the Republican nominee, tests the future of the GOP. Will the Tea Party insurgency prevail?

By Staff writer / October 24, 2009

President Obama's appointment of Republican New York Congressman John McHugh as Army Secretary set up the nation's only congressional race this November. There, a battle between the moderate and conservative wings of the GOP is shaking up to be a party battleground.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File

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Atlanta

Pitting conservative purists against party pragmatists, a growing number of national Republican figures are bucking the party standard and backing a third-party candidate in November's special election in upstate New York’s 23rd congressional district. [Editor's note: The original version mischaracterized this contest as the only congressional election this fall. There is another in California's 10th congressional district.]

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Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former Senator Rick Santorum, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, current Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, former Tennessee Senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson, and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes have all backed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over Republican Dede Scozzafava.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty – a potential presidential candidate in 2012 – suggested Friday on ABC News that he’s strongly considering backing Hoffman, as well.

“Our nation is at a crossroads, and this is once again a time for choosing,” Ms. Palin, author of the upcoming book, “Going Rogue,” wrote Thursday on her Facebook page. “This is the game-changer,” added Dick Armey, whose Freedom Works organization has supported the Tea Party movement.

Palin, et al. represent what can only be called the Tea Party insurgency, whose adherents point to mainstream Republicans – including party philosopher Newt Gingrich – and their support of Ms. Scozzafava as another sign that the GOP has strayed from its core principles.

Taken together, it means that NY-23 is one of the first real test of voter attitudes 10 months into the Obama presidency. [Editor's note: The original version overstated the sole importance of the contest in New York.]

National Republican figures taking a stand against the Washington wing of the party means two things: Conservatives are now willing to take bold political chances in order to move the party toward purer party principles like small government and lower taxes. But it could also backfire: A Ross Perot-like split of NY-23 could mean the district going to a Democrat, Bill Owens, for the first time in over 100 years.