Conservative Party key in N.Y. election

An accountant running on the Conservative Party platform in New York will play a significant role in the special election to replace Rep. John McHugh (R), according to a new survey.

The poll, conducted for Doug Hoffman (C), shows Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) leading with 30 percent of the vote. Attorney Bill Owens (D) trails with 20 percent, while Hoffman places third with 19 percent, impressive for a candidate not running with the backing of a major party.

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"This poll shows what I have felt in my gut; voters in the 23rd congressional district want a conservative Republican representing them in Washington," Hoffman said in a statement that touted his "beliefs that run counter to the two liberals in the race."

Scozzafava, a centrist Republican who was chosen to carry the party's standard by local party leaders, has been criticized for her lack of conservative credentials, causing some in the GOP heartburn over the prospect of a divided electorate.

"Polls come and go; methodologies vary, numbers can be skewed; but you don't need a poll to prove you can't trust Doug Hoffman," said Matt Burns, a Scozzafava spokesman. "Serious questions about Doug Hoffman's credibility remain; that's one thing we know for certain."

The district may be perfect for a divided electorate. The poll, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for Hoffman's campaign, shows 56 percent of district voters consider themselves "pro-life," while 44 percent call themselves conservative. (Just 31 percent call themselves moderate, while 18 percent are liberals.)

"If [the race] is fought on the issues, Doug Hoffman has a really good shot of winning," said John McLaughlin, who conducted the poll.

Part of that opportunity, McLaughlin noted, comes from the fact that both Scozzafava and Owens are underperforming their own party bases. Scozzafava has scared some Republicans who do not view her as sufficiently conservative, as evidenced by her inability to secure the Conservative Party line.

"Normally you go and you get the conservative line first and then you end up winning the Republican primary," McLaughlin said. "It's very unusual for the Republican candidate not to get the Conservative line."

Though it might be a political setback, it will not affect the size of the Republican Conference if Hoffman takes the surprise win in New York. A spokesman confirmed that, if elected, Hoffman would caucus with Republicans.

Still, with a significant segment of conservative voters backing Hoffman over Scozzafava, Democrat Owens could sneak through and cause the GOP yet another black eye.

Owens is getting some powerful help on Wednesday, when Vice President Joe Biden attends a fundraiser for the political neophyte at a law firm in Syracuse.

All three candidates are running already, but they still have yet to know where the finish line is. Thanks to a hold-up in the Senate, McHugh, who was appointed in early June to serve as Army secretary, has yet to resign his post. Consequently, Gov. David Paterson (D) has not announced the date of the special election.