Hoffman lines up big-name support, but local backing up in air

Doug Hoffman is rallying big-name conservative support in his second run for Congress, but local support is still an open question.

Hoffman, the former third-party candidate who overtook Republican Dede Scozzafava before losing the 2009 New York special election, says he is being encouraged by many of the usual suspects in his repeat bid. 

ADVERTISEMENT
He sought to build on that support with an appearance last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In an interview with The Hill at the conference, Hoffman said his early supporters include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who originally endorsed Scozzafava), former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

But local Republicans say they aren’t ready for a coronation just yet, and they’re speaking out in stark terms.

“Mr. Hoffman ought to realize that he didn’t score very highly among the nine candidates” in the 2009 special-election process, said Franklin County GOP Chairman Jim Ellis.

Hoffman recently caused a stir by refusing to rule out another third-party bid against Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) if he loses the GOP primary. Hoffman was the Conservative Party candidate in the special election — after the GOP picked Scozzafava — and when polls showed him leading her, Scozzafava dropped out of the race. Owens won the seat.

Hoffman instead insists that he won’t lose the primary, but his comments about a possible third-party run have rubbed some Republicans in the district the wrong way.

“I’m sorry, but that’s not the way it works,” Ellis said. “As much as the story out of his campaign last year was, ‘I’m not a professional politician,’ he certainly acts like one.”

Added Cary Brick, a chief of staff to former Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.): “The perception is that he is a big-C Conservative rather than a small-C conservative Republican. People want a small-I independent who is not wedded to a particular ideology.”

Ellis will back a candidate from his home county, Franklin County legislator Paul Maroun, if Maroun runs, while Brick is preparing to re-enter partisan politics for the first time in a decade.

Brick doesn’t sound like he’ll back Hoffman, but he could back businessman Matt Doheny or state Assemblyman Will Barclay, who are Hoffman’s biggest challengers so far.

Ellis said others are expected to emerge in the near future.

Republicans all over the district are gearing up for a pitched primary. 

Brick, a former top aide to three of the district’s GOP congressmen, said Hoffman has a right to run but that it’s best to keep things local. He noted former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s visit for Hoffman, which culminated in Hoffman getting stumped by a local editorial board and Armey dismissing local issues as “parochial.”

“With all due respect to Dick Armey and Doug Hoffman, Armey’s presence here turned out to be a huge disaster,” Brick said. “There was tremendous resentment of outside involvement.”

Hoffman campaign adviser Rob Ryan said the editorial board interview amounted to an “ambush.” Hoffman emphasized that he will be much more versed in local issues now that he has more time to study them.

He will make his campaign official in the coming weeks and says he will pitch himself as the only candidate who can unite the GOP. He released a poll recently that showed him with 56 percent of the primary vote, while Barclay was at 22 percent.

He noted that he has a 25,000-donor base to start with, thanks to the notoriety he gained last year.

“We’re going to immediately activate our donor base,” Hoffman said. “And the names I mentioned have offered to come up and do fundraisers for me.”

Hoffman is only too happy to play up his national support. In addition to the others, a previously neutral party bigwig — House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) — threw his 2010 support to Hoffman the day after the special election.

But perhaps more important than any of the others, state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long has already promised Hoffman the party’s ballot line.

Cole said that should be an incentive for Republicans to vote for Hoffman.

“There’s been some grumbling about the Republican nomination, but if he’s on the ballot, he will get a significant chunk of the votes,” Cole said. “The right thing to do is help the guy that will be on general-election ballot.”

But Hoffman’s opponents say they can use that stance against Hoffman.

“It’s very challenging to ask someone for their vote and, if they don’t give it to you, say, ‘I’m still going to run,’ ” Doheny said.

Doheny, who met with NRCC leaders about 2010 even before the special election was over, says he will continue to seek the Conservative and Independence Party lines. And the self-funder said he has already stowed away more than $600,000 to make his point crystal-clear.

“It’s one thing to go ahead and say Dede’s too far left and that she doesn’t meet your conservative tenets,” Doheny said, “but clearly I do.”