SARANAC LAKE - Doug Hoffman says he will actively stay in the congressional race on the Conservative line after losing the Republican primary to Matt Doheny.
Hoffman said he thinks he can win a three-way campaign, and that people will vote for him because he says he "can display honesty and integrity in Washington."
But Essex County Republican Party Chairman Ron Jackson and Upstate New York Tea Party Chairman Mark Barie argued that Hoffman doesn't have the money or support for his campaign to be viable. Jackson said he will be "kind of a non-factor."
Doug Hoffman speaks in a Sept. 7 debate with Matt Doheny in Saranac Lake's Harrietstown Town Hall.
(Enterprise file photo - Mike Lynch)
Counties throughout the district opened their absentee ballots this week, and with most of the results in, Doheny has won by about 700 votes, a little more than his lead on primary night last week.
The incumbent is U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who is running for re-election, this time to a full two-year term. Hoffman announced a little after 1 p.m. Thursday that he would continue to campaign for the office, despite the primary results.
"I think the voters of the 23rd District are fed up with the representatives in Washington and want to get somebody from Main Street, like I am," Hoffman told the Enterprise in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.
Hoffman described Doheny and Owens as "a Wall Street lawyer and a Nancy Pelosi puppet," and accused them both of "not truthful with the voters," citing Owens' vote for the national health care bill and Doheny's support of abortion rights in the first trimester.
Hoffman said the health-care bill will cut Medicare and raise taxes on the middle classes and small businesses, things Owens said he wouldn't do during the campaign. Meanwhile, Doheny and Hoffman have both described themselves as "pro-life," although neither said what this should entail in terms of criminal penalties for abortion when asked at a debate in Saranac Lake earlier this month.
Hoffman has closed his campaign offices in Watertown and Plattsburgh. His office in Saranac Lake still has his banner on the side, but it has often looked empty since the primary. Hoffman said he still has the support of many of the volunteers who worked with him in his 2009 campaign.
"We're going to have the staff, and we're going to raise the money we need to win this election," Hoffman said.
Hoffman spokesman Rob Ryan argued that Doheny's 700-vote margin of victory, despite outspending the Hoffman campaign 12 to 1 and having the support of the district's county Republican Party committees, showed that Hoffman can win.
"To me, that sounds like a candidate who is in trouble," Ryan said. "And that's why Doug's campaign is viable."
Jackson and Barie had a different take on Hoffman's campaign.
"He has no money, he has no campaign staff, and his campaign simply is not viable," Barie said. "But to the extent that he garners even one vote, it is a vote in favor of Bill Owens."
"I don't see Mr. Hoffman getting a lot of financial support, except for the right-to-life people," Jackson said. "A lot of those that supported (Hoffman) last year have said they will support the winner of the primary. Well, that's Matt Doheny."
Both men said they were "disappointed" with Hoffman's decision.
"He's still running with Dede Scozzafava and hasn't realized he's got another conservative," Jackson said. "He's not going to get the funding and the support he did before because there is another conservative Republican candidate."
UNYTEA endorsed and worked for Hoffman in the primary, but Barie said before the primary he hoped UNYTEA would back the winner, and blasted Hoffman's campaign after the primary as poorly run and out-of-touch with the district.
UNYTEA is polling its membership now. Barie said about half had said they back Doheny, half Hoffman, a change from earlier this year, when about 95 percent said they backed Hoffman, according to Barie.
"The rank-and-file tea party members are confused right now," Barie said. "We went full-board for Hoffman, and he didn't win for no one's fault except his campaign's."
Barie said the tea party's steering committee would likely meet next week, and decide what to do. He mentioned backing Doheny as a possibility; another possibility would be to campaign against Owens, focusing on fiscal issues, rather than for either Doheny or Hoffman.
Barie has already been in communication with Doheny's campaign.
"He's very anxious to curry favor with the tea party people, and perhaps even get a formal endorsement," Barie said. "I'm certainly open to it. I don't make these decisions unilaterally."
"The tea party movement is more than just one person," Hoffman said. "I plan to talk to Mark Barie directly and see if we can work out our differences."
Hoffman also thanked UNYTEA for its support in the primary.
Doheny didn't mention Hoffman in a telephone interview Thursday when asked his reaction to Hoffman's staying in the race. Instead, the Watertown portfolio manager focused on why he thinks Owens is wrong for the district.
"I'm running against Bill Owens," Doheny said. "There's only one conservative Republican who can stop out-of-control spending, the Pelosi-Obama agenda, and I look forward to making sure everybody knows that Bill Owens is wrong for the district, I'm right for the district, and we'll ... return the seat back into conservative Republican hands."
Doheny said Hoffman's decision will have no effect on his campaign. He also talked a bit about his plans over the next six weeks.
"We've been campaigning seven days a week for nine months," Doheny said. "The last 40 days are full-speed ahead, maximizing our contact with all voters and making sure people understand the clear choice they have between the failed policies of Nancy Pelosi and Bill Owens and a future with economic growth, smaller deficits, less taxes and a better future up here in the Adirondacks and the North Country. It's a clear choice between myself and Bill Owens. We look forward to that debate in the next 40 days."
Jackson said Doheny can win a three-way race.
"I think Matt'll win handily," Jackson said. "Not as big as he would if he's just head-on-head (with Owens), but I still think Matt will win in November very handily."
Owens put out a statement shortly after Hoffman's announcement, saying voters "face a clear choice this November." He said he has spent much of the past 12 months traveling the district and people have told him "consistently" that job creation and economic development are their biggest concerns. He said he has "made job creation my top priority in Washington," favors "strengthening Social Security" and has "fought hard" for tax breaks for rural businesses.
"Both of my opponents take a different approach that doesn't serve as a plan to move our communities forward," Owens said. "They both support tax breaks for companies that outsource American jobs overseas, support privatizing Social Security which will put the benefits guaranteed to our seniors at risk, and want a return to the failed economic policies of the past that got us into this mess in the first place."
Contact Nathan Brown at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.