Doug Hoffman’s Race to Lose?

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There were two campaign events held in Watertown, NY yesterday. Democrat Bill Owens, vying to represent New York’s 23rd congressional district, hosted Vice President Joe Biden at a rally in the morning. His opponent, Conservative Doug Hoffman, hosted former presidential candidate Fred Thompson and country music star John Rich at a concert and rally in the evening. Maybe it was that Hoffman didn’t depend on political star power alone, but his rally was bigger.

It’s hard to draw a direct line from yesterday’s rally attendance figures to what will happen in today’s special election to replace Republican John McHugh, who resigned from the district’s House seat to be Secretary of the Army. Moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava was forced out of the race by Hoffman’s surging candidacy, which was bankrolled by outside conservative groups and carried a message that a Republican as liberal as Scozzafava (she’s pro-choice, pro-union and supports gay marriage rights) doesn’t deserve to carry the mantel of the GOP. After she dropped out of the race, Scozzafava turned around and endorsed Owens, the Democrat.

Two recent polls have shown Hoffman winning in a two-way race with Owens. I only wrote about one yesterday – a live phone poll conducted by Siena College and showing Hoffman with a 5-point advantage. (The other poll was automated and gave Hoffman a 17-point lead.) But Nate Silver and Mark Blumenthal have analyzed both sets of results and say that it’s Hoffman’s race to lose today. (The weather is not expected to be the kind that encourages voters to get to the polls – rainy and in the 40s all day.)

A Hoffman win will give conservatives further confidence, but even if he loses, he pushed aside a moderate Republican and surprised political observers – in the 23rd and nationally – with effective and passionate organizing. In other words, conservatives have already sent a powerful message in this race that will continue to resonate, regardless of the outcome. But as for the residents of the 23rd – my home district – well, they won’t have much time off from politics. The seat is up for grabs again next November.

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