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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)

Scozzafava's black Nokia phone vibrated nonstop. She rarely picked it up, except for family or close friends. She called the publisher of the Watertown Daily Times to convey her private support for Owens. She received a text informing her that former president Bill Clinton was trying to reach her, but she wasn't returning any messages. Her husband tried to resume normal patterns -- even buying candy and greeting trick-or-treaters at their home. Scozzafava sat alone in his Chevrolet Silverado pickup.

On Sunday morning, after her first good night's sleep in days, Scozzafava went to choir practice at the First United Methodist Church of Gouverneur. Somewhere during her singing of "I went down in the valley to pray," she said she decided to endorse Owens. As practice let out, the district buzzed with an editorial in the Watertown Daily Times revealing her calls in support of Owens. Around noon, she returned a call from Sheldon Silver, the powerful Democratic leader of the New York State Assembly, who had called at the White House's behest. He told her there'd be a place for her in his conference if she wanted.

After church, Scozzafava went to O'Neill's house, where a draft endorsement was already waiting for her approval. "She had written a little bit and I revised it," Scozzafava said. The former candidate then taped two robo-calls supporting Owens. As she left, O'Neill mentioned that Owens was campaigning nearby and would like to thank her personally.

Of course, the Watertown paper had a reporter on site to capture that meeting, and O'Neill pushed forward with another request: Would Scozzafava show up for a rally with Vice President Biden the next day? Scozzafava had reached her breaking point. She went home to change into her sweats, turned off her phone and went to play pickup volleyball at a local gym.

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Owens won the race by three percentage points, with Scozzafava, whose name remained on the ballot, drawing five points -- and the enduring enmity of conservatives.

"There is a great song called 'Coca Cola Cowboy' and I believe that's what we have here. She was a Republican as long as it enhanced her electability," said Armey, reached while petting a goat at his Texas ranch. "My guess is she made a deal with Chuck Schumer or the White House that will eventually show itself to us."

In Gouverneur, the parlor game speculates about possible prizes for Scozzafava and other moderates who play the spoiler. When Scozzafava's husband returned to Mullin's restaurant for a post-election labor meeting, members asked him when he and his wife would be moving down to Florida for the cushy job the government had secured him with publicly funded General Motors.

"Brothers and sisters," a confounded McDougall told them, "I'm not going to Florida."

Scozzafava, who was stripped of her Republican leadership position in the New York State Assembly on Monday, says she has no regrets and even leaves open the possibility of running for the seat again as a Republican. She sees herself as a champion of local expertise over ideological purity.

"How can Sarah Palin come out and endorse someone who can't answer some basic questions," Scozzafava asked. "Do these people even know who they are endorsing?"

Those conservative forces now descend on Florida, where former House speaker Marco Rubio, who on Monday received the endorsement of the Club for Growth, might shove aside centrist Gov. Charlie Crist, who was once on John McCain's short list for running mate. And Scozzafava has a warning.

"There is a lot of us who consider ourselves Republicans, of the Party of Lincoln," she said, her face now flush. "If they don't want us with them, we're going to work against them."

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