By Aaron Blake - 11/03/09 11:00 AM EST
Two new polls showed Hoffman with significant leads in the race, including by double digits in one of them. Yet in a contest full of anomalies, and after a weekend that included the GOP nominee’s withdrawal and cross-party endorsement, neither side is calling the race at this point.
Following GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava’s exit from the race Saturday, Republicans have dealt with shifting their turnout operation to Hoffman. The Republican National Committee (RNC) also launched a radio ad on Hoffman’s behalf Monday.
Democrats, meanwhile, touted Scozzafava’s endorsement and subsequent robo-call to voters. They hope that a rally Monday featuring Vice President Joe Biden will give their nominee, Bill Owens, a last-minute surge.
Biden said the liberal Republican’s exit from the race shows a difference in philosophy between the two parties. Democrats continued to emphasize the GOP civil war theme Monday, in the hours after Hoffman took his apparent lead.
“They may not have any room for moderate views in the Republican Party upstate, but let me assure you: We have room,” Biden said.
The scene for the last-minute push was set by two polls released late Sunday and early Monday. A survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling had Hoffman ahead of Owens 54-38, while a Siena poll had the Conservative Party candidate with a much smaller edge: 41-36.
The former poll was complicated by Scozzafava’s weekend maneuvers. PPP spokesman Tom Jensen noted that Hoffman’s margin was consistent throughout the polling period, but he also said the survey subject was “one of a kind.”
“I have never changed a poll while it was in the field, much less twice,” Jensen said. “We’re just going to have to see what happens tomorrow.”
The polls showed vastly different races. While PPP had independent voters going for Hoffman by a 22-point margin, Siena had them going for Owens by six. Siena has shown President Barack Obama to be much more popular in the district, suggesting a more Democratic sample.
Siena’s poll also showed many more undecided voters — nearly one-fifth in total.
“Conventional wisdom would tell you that the Republicans who were with Scozzafava would now move to Hoffman, but this race has been anything but conventional until now, and there’s no reason to believe that will change,” Siena pollster Steven Greenberg said.
Scozzafava’s abrupt exit from the race with three days left was seen as a boon to Hoffman, and the polling has borne that out. Owens has, at least momentarily, ceded his slight lead over Hoffman.
House Republicans, now embarrassed by their support for Scozzafava, have shifted to Hoffman en masse. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday that “this lady clearly has as agenda that’s different than most Republicans’.”
But Greenberg noted that the unions backing Scozzafava have moved their efforts to Owens. And all around, the edge in turnout operations is expected to be on the Democrat’s side.
Still, the edge in momentum is Hoffman’s. The third-party candidate could even obtain a majority vote in the three-candidate field (Scozzafava remains on the ballot), which would send a strong signal for conservative principles in the current political environment.
But Hoffman’s success also belies a troubling intra-party trend, and candidates around the country are bracing for some Hoffman-esque GOP soul-searching in their primaries.
As it turns out, Hoffman could be among them.
Doheny has continued to make the rounds in the district and is keeping his options open. If Hoffman wins, the Conservative would caucus with the GOP and would run in the Republican primary, according to a campaign source.
If he does, though, he could face stiff competition from Doheny or other would-be nominees.
“There’s still some Republican backlash against Hoffman for being a spoiler,” said Brendan Quinn, who is advising Doheny. “What I’ve told [Doheny] is, ‘Don’t say much. Let’s see how everything plays out.’ ”
GOP leaders believe Doheny has a future in politics, whether it be running in the 23rd district or elsewhere.
George Williams, the chairman of the Oswego County GOP and an early Doheny supporter, said he is set to have lunch with Doheny after Tuesday’s special election.
“He said he’s still interested” in politics, Williams said, noting that Doheny had plenty of early support when the county chairmen picked Scozzafava.
Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.