By Aaron Blake and Molly K. Hooper - 10/30/09 10:00 AM EDT
The recent rash of endorsements in New York’s special election is putting Republican members of Congress in a tough spot between their conservative base and their party.
Some are taking the chance to assert their ideological bona fides by backing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, while others are trying to score political points within their caucus by sticking with left-leaning Republican Dede Scozzafava.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that he has cut a check to Scozzafava. But he then proceeded to criticize the process that got the party into its current situation.
“This is an internal Republican self-inflicted wound,” Issa said.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a young conservative whom some have pegged as a future leader, said he is staying out of it.
“I have other stuff to worry about,” he said. “It’s not on my radar screen.”
With Scozzafava fading in the polls, even her congressional backers seem to be rooting for the candidate with the momentum — Hoffman — to come through.
“I hope that she wins but, if not, I hope that Mr. Hoffman wins,” said Rules Committee ranking member David Dreier (Calif.), a member of the GOP leadership team. “But there is a Republican standard-bearer, and we’re supporting the Republican standard-bearer.”
Despite Dreier’s sentiment and the opportunity to grow its conference — Hoffman has pledged to caucus with the GOP — the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) continues to hammer away at the third-party candidate. Not doing so would risk other GOP candidates worrying about abandonment down the road.
There are still many more members, and some prominent former members like ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), supporting Scozzafava than Hoffman.
But Hoffman endorsements from some current and former leaders — including former Speaker Dick Armey (Texas) and former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) — and the silence of members like Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) speak volumes about the difficulty of the situation.
So far, Cole and Armey have been joined by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), John Linder (R-Ga.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), who is running for Senate.
Potential New Hampshire Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne has also joined them as he prepares to battle establishment favorite Kelly Ayotte in the state’s Senate primary.
Playing off those announcements, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) on Wednesday began trying to put Republican Senate candidates on the spot in the special election, asking whom they would support.
The candidates, some of whom are House members, weren’t anxious to talk about it. Rep. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) campaign didn’t return multiple requests for comment.
Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R-Ill.) campaign says he is not endorsing.
Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who faces Tiahrt in a primary that will likely decide Sen. Sam Brownback’s (R-Kan.) successor, will also stay out of things.
Moran has accepted several senators’ endorsements in his primary, but he has decided not to cast his own in New York, citing his policy against endorsing other candidates.
Tiahrt is taking the opposite approach and speaking out with force. In an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, he openly questioned former Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) for backing Scozzafava, asking why Hensarling would “bail out on the conservative.”
Hensarling has been joined in backing Scozzafava by most top members of leadership. Other high-profile conservative lawmakers, including Pence, refuse to weigh in on the race.
Pence, a potential 2012 presidential contender who is also a former Republican Study Committee chairman, has made it known that he will not back Scozzafava. The Hill confirmed Wednesday that Pence will continue to abstain from the race, even as other conservatives are making the leap to Hoffman.
“By staying out of it, these guys are sending a signal,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “It’s an indication of the tension in the Republican Party.”
Not all of Hoffman’s support is ideological, though. In fact, Cole said his endorsement has nothing to do with the soul of the party, and everything to do with pragmatism.
“In seven days we have an election. One candidate can win, and one probably can’t. Shouldn’t we help the one that can win?” Cole said.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), an appropriator, said that members of the party are concerned about the fallout over this internal battle.
“It kind of concerns a lot of us if we’re trying to make our party so pure that what you end up with is a permanent minority,” Simpson said.
Members of Congress and big-name Republicans weren’t the only ones getting in on the action this week. In addition to Lamontagne, at least three candidates in
Republican primaries sought the conservative ground in their races by speaking out in favor of Hoffman.
Supporting Hoffman offers Calvey and others a chance to separate themselves from the GOP establishment.
“I realize that I may be shunned among some national Republican loyalists, but this is too important to our country’s future,” said Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo, who is a candidate for Tiahrt’s seat.
Former Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin Calvey, who is running for Rep. Mary Fallin’s (R-Okla.) open seat, used the occasion to call Scozzafava an “ultra-liberal.”
Jennifer Horn was the Republican nominee against Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) last year but faces former Rep. Charlie Bass (R) in a primary this year. She said Scozzafava is what’s wrong with the Republican Party.
“Certainly, Republicans in New York’s 23rd are expressing a strong sense the pro-choice, pro-big government, pro-tax increase, NRCC-endorsed candidate is not their candidate,” Horn told the NH Political Report. “I do think we will see this dynamic unfold in my race. People are sick and tired of Washington telling them what do, which candidate to support and how to spend their money.”