Judging from expenditures made by national Democrats, the party believes its biggest obstacle to victory in a New York special election is not the Republican candidate but the Conservative Party's nominee.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its allies have not run advertisements attacking Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava since Oct. 20, a week ago. Instead, the party has focused solely on knocking down Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.
Meanwhile, Democratic strategists in Washington are privately beginning to downplay expectations for the race, hinting that they would not be surprised if Hoffman were to win outright, defeating both Scozzafava and attorney Bill Owens (D).
Two recent polls, both commissioned by conservative organizations that support Hoffman, show the Conservative leading both his rivals. Public polls have showed Hoffman trailing Owens and Scozzafava, but sources in Hoffman's camp and among Democrats with knowledge of the race each say private polls show a two-way contest between Hoffman and Owens, leaving Scozzafava out in the cold.
"This race is neck and neck between Owens and Hoffman," said DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer.
On Tuesday, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees reported purchasing nearly $200,000 in advertisements targeting Hoffman. Over the weekend, the DCCC began running new ads targeting Hoffman, bringing the total the committee has spent on the race to more than $525,000.
Scozzafava's campaign dismisses the notion that they are out of the running, insisting that Hoffman's and Owens' absence on the campaign trail will stick with voters.
"The only poll that we're focused on is Nov. 3, next Tuesday," said Matt Burns, Scozzafava's spokesman. "At the end of the day, people are looking for a leader who will stand up and fight for them in Congress and be accountable and answer questions, and the only person who has done that in this race is Dede Scozzafava."
Hoffman's campaign says it is unsurprised by the focus on their candidate, pointing to Owens' party label and Scozzafava's cordial history with labor unions.
"We've expected all along that in the final weeks of this campaign, big labor would be coming after us. Big labor is supporting both Dede Scozzafava and Bill Owens. The one person they don't want in Congress is Doug Hoffman," said Rob Ryan, a Hoffman advisor.
"The polls are showing, and anyone who's in the district is hearing, there's a groundswell of support for Doug Hoffman," Ryan added. "Voters are sick and tired of disfunction in Albany and disfunction in Washington, and they're looking for an outsider not from the Beltway."
GOP strategists contend Democrats are attacking Hoffman in order to erode his base among independent voters that Owens needs.
"I think the DCCC is hitting Hoffman because they see the same things we have been seeing -- he's taking a large chunk of independent voters that Owens desperately needs to win," one GOP aide said. Scozzafava "has already taken over $1 million in negative ads against her, so there is no need to hit her."
Indeed, public polls not conducted for any of the campaigns show Hoffman actually leading his two opponents among independent voters. Owens gets the vast majority of Democrats, while Scozzafava beats both her rivals by about 20 points among Republicans.
To many, that suggests Hoffman will do best among those who voted for President Obama but who are now disaffected by his first nine months in office.
Republicans have taken their own shots in the race, dedicating at least $890,000 against Owens, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee's reports filed at the Federal Election Commission. The party has not attacked Hoffman in televised ads, though spokespeople have taken shots at him for living outside the district and for playing the role of the spoiler.
And though the situation may look bleak for the GOP, the party is still committing resources to the race. On Monday, the NRCC dropped another $41,000 on advertisements.
Those ads are more essential in propping up Scozzafava than DCCC support for Owens. FEC reports filed last week show Owens had raised $503,000 through Oct. 14, twice as much as Scozzafava had raised (Hoffman pulled in just over $300,000, the reports show).
And while Hoffman has experienced an online fundraising surge and Owens got his own boost from a fundraiser with President Obama last week, Scozzafava has benefited from fundraisers with two different sets of House Republicans, meaning she likely still trails her rivals in the cash chase.
-- This article was updated at 3:19 p.m.