Boehner stresses GOP big tent in wake of Scozzafava election shakeup

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) shrugged off the notion Sunday that the Scozzafava shakeup in New York was a sign of growing backlash against moderates in the Republican Party while stressing the need to show conservative activists that the GOP was the party for them.

Boehner was grilled on CNN's "State of the Union" about the Saturday decision of Dede Scozzafava, the Republican nominee for the NY-23 special election to fill the House seat vacated by Army Secretary John McHugh, to pull out of the race in the face of shrinking poll numbers against Conservative Party challenger Doug Hoffman.

Boehner said the case was highly unusual because Scozzafava was selected by local party chairmen.

"Clearly she would be on the left side of our party," said Boehner, who had financially supported the campaign of the New York assemblywoman. "...We accept moderates in our party and we want moderates in our party."

The minority leader, when pressed by host John King, didn't link the shakeup to pressure by the conservative "Tea Party" movement, citing his participation at rallies in Bakersfield, Calif., and Ohio. "I've worked with these people, and what they're concerned about is the growing size of government. They want someone who's really going to actively reduce spending and reduce control here in Washington. They're scared to death," Boehner said.

"We need a broad group of people in our party," he added when pressed about the role of the conservative Club for Growth PAC, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in driving support for Hoffman. "I think that going after Republicans is one thing; having a party standing on fiscal responsibility, like we have all year, standing on principle against the crazy policies that we see out of Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid -- the American people want to see us take these principled stands."

Boehner said that the conservative movement had awakened many Americans to become engaged in political activism for the first time, and the GOP needed to show that it's the right party for them.

"We're in the middle of a political rebellion going on in America," he said. "It's going to be a difficult road to walk to work with relatively new entrants into the political system and to work with them to show them that, by and large, we are the party who represents their interests."

Boehner, Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions all announced their endorsement for Hoffman shortly after Scozzafava dropped out of the race.

While acknowledging how messy the race got with intra-party fighting, Boehner didn't step further into the fray when pressed Sunday.

"I'm a big believer in Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment," Boehner said. "Never talk ill about another Republican."

On "Meet the Press" Sunday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett seized on the strife, saying it showed the Republican Party was becoming "more and more extreme and more and more marginalized."

"It's rather telling when the Republican Party forces out a moderate Republican and it says, I think, a great deal about where the Republican Party leadership is right now," she said.

"It sends a message to moderate Republicans that there's no room at the inn," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on "Face the Nation."

Tony Romm contributed to this report