By Reid Wilson - 10/26/09 07:08 PM EDT
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the latest Republican to buck his own party Monday, wading into a New York special election to offer support for Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman instead of the GOP nominee.
Pawlenty, who has raised his profile in recent weeks as he lays the foundations for a possible presidential bid, becomes the latest candidate to support Hoffman over Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R), the candidate selected by local party leaders to carry the Republican standard.
As they seek favor with conservative organizations and activists key to winning their party's nomination, several potential candidates have announced they support Hoffman.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) called Hoffman a candidate who would stand against politics as usual. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said on Friday that a vote for Hoffman is a vote for a conservative Republican. And former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) campaigned with Hoffman last week.
And in an effort to distinguish himself as a more conservative candidate, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) — running against Rep. Jerry Moran (R) in a Senate primary — announced last week that he would support Hoffman.
Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is backing Scozzafava, arguing that supporting the Republican nominee is the more practical path.
Other candidates, like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), have said they will not get involved on either candidate's behalf.
"There is still a path to victory, and we will continue to support [Scozzafava]," NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said.
GOP sources suggested that those who back Hoffman over Scozzafava might have faced greater criticism from within the party if the Republican nominee were seen as a more reliable vote. But her record, they argue, gives conservatives a pass to back Hoffman.
"The Republicans basically nominated a not-mainstream Republican candidate," said Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who ran to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee. "It's not like she's off on one issue; she's off on almost every issue.
"As the party is trying to define itself and literally find itself, these are the kinds of internal conflicts we'll find," Anuzis added. "The question becomes, Are you better off having a Democrat who understands he's a Democrat, or a Republican who votes like a Democrat?"
And given the nature of New York state politics — where a candidate can run on multiple party lines — Hoffman's candidacy does not amount to a true spoiler, said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. Pitney pointed to a 1970 Senate contest in which then-Sen. Charles Goodell (R) lost to Conservative Party nominee James Buckley, running to Goodell's right.
Additionally, Scozzafava "has turned out to be a weaker candidate than the NRCC had hoped," Pitney said. "This case undercuts the notion that the more moderate candidate is necessarily the more electable one."