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Tea Party Express jubilant as Scozzafava exits in NY-23

Scozzafava’s departure is a blow to the establishment GOP. But the latest development in upstate New York’s special congressional race also means ‘outsiders’ clearly are viable in US politics.

By Staff writer / October 31, 2009

Dierdre Scozzafava, who has dropped her candidacy for New York's State House of Representatives in the face of a Conservative Party challenge.

Heather Ainsworth/AP

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Atlanta

After dramatically dropping behind in three-way polling, embattled New York Republican Dede Scozzafava jumped ship Saturday in the hotly-contested NY-23 congressional election scheduled for Tuesday.

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That leaves the door wide open for Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, supported by national Republican figures like Sarah Palin and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, to take on Democrat challenger Bill Owens in a head-to-head special election in the historically Republican enclave.

Scozzafava “released” her endorsements on Saturday as she suspended her campaign, effectively dropping out. Pressure on her to bow out had increased as Mr. Hoffman quickly overtook her in the polls as national conservatives -- as well as out of town volunteers -- joined the fray. One fear was that Hoffman and Scozzafava would split the conservative vote, allowing a Democrat to take NY-23 for the first time since the 19th century.

More critically, Scozzafava’s decision is a sure sign that disaffected conservatives, symbolized by this summer’s national Tea Party protests and heated healthcare town halls, are surging across the US, forcing the Obama administration to rejigger election day expectations in key races in Virginia, New Jersey, and now New York.

But the Republican party, too, appears in disarray. The GOP, with the approval of Beltway philosophers like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, had picked the socially liberal Scozzafava over the more libertarian Hoffman as its candidate, saying a moderate would stand a better chance of winning upstate New York. Judging by Saturday’s news, the Beltway Republicans were wrong.

The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder had this to say: “Republicans will derive two lessons from the results of this race. One is that the activist base of the party is becoming increasingly powerful in the one area that had eluded them: candidate selection. Democrats, believing that Republicans will conservatize-themselves to death demographically, will take this as a positive trend for the long-term. The second lesson is that populist, regular guy candidates win in supposedly ‘moderate’ districts.”

He adds: “The race had become a proxy for debates about the future of the party. Since the situation in NY-23 is so unusual, it may be folly to squeeze out more meaning than's already present.”

John Hinderaker at Powerline Blog has a different view of Scozzafava’s decision: “It is not clear that Scozzafava's withdrawal will help Hoffman, as by this point most of her support may well be coming from voters who are more closely aligned, ideologically, with Owens. Still, if Hoffman can win on Tuesday, it will be viewed as a watershed movement in the resurgence of conservatism.”

But the impact of those candidacies on the high-profile contests points to an anti-incumbent, anti-establishment sentiment that could be a prevailing theme in the 2010 congressional elections and beyond.

"What it says is the public is looking for less self-interested parties and candidates who can reflect the needs of a very frustrated public," said Douglas Astolfi, a history professor at Florida's St. Leo University. "We have two wars and we're in a recession that neither party seems to address in any positive way. There's a deep sense that government has abandoned the common man. People are frustrated and angry."

The Twitterati, of course, went wild.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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