By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
A series of moves by potential Republican presidential candidates has turned a special congressional election next month in New York into an early test of conservative bona fides.
In the past week, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin have weighed in on the race, with Pawlenty and Palin throwing their support to Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and Gingrich endorsing Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.
Palin and Pawlenty cast the contest as a fight for the direction of the GOP. Palin said her endorsement would be a message to party leaders of "no more politics as usual," and Pawlenty said that "we cannot send more politicians to Washington who wear the Republican jersey on the campaign trail but then vote like Democrats in Congress."
Gingrich insisted that the special election should not be interpreted as a conservative litmus test and that his endorsement of Scozzafava was entirely about respecting local party leaders.
He noted that Hoffman had run against Scozzafava for the Republican nomination and lost at a series of county meetings; in an e-mail, he warned of the "grave danger of establishing the precedent that every faction can run a third party candidate if they lose a primary or a convention," adding that such a strategy is "the road to re-elect Obama and make [Nancy] Pelosi speaker for life."
The congressional seat opened this summer when President Obama named John McHugh secretary of the Army. Polling and conversations with those close to the contest suggest that it is a race between Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens, with Scozzafava fading badly.
Not all of the Republicans who have been mentioned as 2012 presidential candidates are getting involved in the congressional race. Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for Mitt Romney, said the former Massachusetts governor has no plans to weigh in for Hoffman or Scozzafava. The same for former governor Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Sen. John Thune (S.D.) and Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), according to spokesmen for each.