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Political eyes on Republican Scozzafava after conservatives urge her to quit

Since the GOP nominee dropped out of the race in New York's 23rd Congressional District amid pressure from conservative leaders, Dede Scozzafava has been swept into the national political conversation.
Since the GOP nominee dropped out of the race in New York's 23rd Congressional District amid pressure from conservative leaders, Dede Scozzafava has been swept into the national political conversation. (Gary Walts For The Washington Post)

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By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

GOUVERNEUR, N.Y. -- Over Halloween weekend, Dede Scozzafava morphed from a rosy-cheeked Republican mom to a political figure of speech.

"My name's a verb now," she said.

A little-known state assemblywoman with moderate Republican views and a mouthful of a surname, Scozzafava's bid for an open seat in New York's 23rd Congressional District drew trash talk from conservative leaders hoping to purge her from the party, mash notes from White House-dispatched Democratic suitors that included Bill Clinton, and the unblinking gaze of political professionals fascinated by her role as the problem child for a dysfunctional Republican Party.

Even as she now hopes to return to her normal life of local politics, laundry and choir practice for next month's big performance of Bach's Christmas Cantatas, the political forces that swept her up have not entirely let her go. Last week, while watching a news show about the next sharply contested Senate Republican primary in Florida, her parents reported that one of the commentators asked whether the moderate was in peril of getting "Scozzafaved."

On Friday morning, Scozzafava -- pronounced SKOZE-uh-FAV-ah -- parked her navy blue Buick behind her modest office a few hundred feet from Main Street's aluminum sculpture of a Pep-O-Mints roll, the monument to Life Savers founder E.J. Noble, who was, before Scozzafava, the most prominent citizen to come out of this rural Adirondack town along the Oswegatchie River.

At her desk, with a fuzzy elephant face down on a bookshelf behind her, she recalled the exhausting end days of her campaign. Violet semicircles hung below her teary eyes as she recounted how Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and other conservative leaders excoriated her for less-than-orthodox positions on gay rights, abortion and organized labor. Her nose reddened as she recalled her abrupt exit from the special election to replace John M. McHugh, whom President Obama had appointed as secretary of the Army earlier in the year.

The conservative movement's third-party candidate, Doug Hoffman, expected her support but, she said, the newcomer accountant "had no integrity." Plus, the Democrats were so nice! They called. They sympathized. They made her feel good about tossing her support to Bill Owens, who -- with her help -- became the area's first Democratic representative in more than a century.

"Oh, someone left chocolates for me!" she said, picking up a present from her aunt and uncle. Her GOP family has been less supportive. And she warns that what happened to her will happen to candidates like her.

* * *

In the summer, Scozzafava and her husband, Ron McDougall, a local labor leader, retreated to their summer house at the end of a dirt road on Sylvia Lake. The place has no TV reception -- a good thing, she said, given all the attack ads against her funded by the Club for Growth, the anti-tax group backing Hoffman. Still, she wasn't entirely isolated. She heard through friends that Palin insinuated she had been "anointed" by a "political machine" because county chairs handpicked her as the nominee. Beck denounced her as "ACORN-supported" and an "Obama-Lite Republican." Former House majority leader Dick Armey's group FreedomWorks mobilized against her. She said she heard conservative robo-calls in the district describing her as a "child killer," a "lesbian lover" and a "homo."

"It was organized," she said.

Scozzafava was, on occasion, her own worst enemy. She didn't raise much money nor did she inspire ranks of volunteers and canvassers to do much for her. When a Weekly Standard reporter followed her to her car one night with a question about abortion, her husband called the cops.


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