(John Fund) – Sarah Palin’s decision to endorse the Conservative Party candidate in an upstate New York special election for Congress has dramatically raised the stakes in the race.
Establishment Republicans have largely lined up behind Republican Dede Scozzafava, despite a voting record in the state legislature that puts her to the left of half of the Democrats in that body. Ms. Palin, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, former presidential candidate Fred Thompson, and Rep. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota are all backing Conservative Doug Hoffman, who narrowly failed to beat Ms. Scozzafava for the support of the ten GOP county chairmen who selected the Republican nominee.
Ms. Palin alluded to the fact that Ms. Scozzafava was picked by party bosses and not by a primary electorate. “Best of all, Doug Hoffman has not been anointed by any political machine,” she wrote her supporters. “Unfortunately, the Republican Party today has decided to choose a candidate that more than blurs the lines, and there is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race. This is why Doug Hoffman is running on the Conservative Party’s ticket.”
Mr. Hoffman seems to have benefited from a surge of financial support in recent days, following an endorsement by the Club for Growth. His campaign reports that he has raised $210,000 in on-line contributions just since October 15.
The Hoffman campaign has used some of the cash to launch a radio ad lampooning an incident that befell the Scozzafava campaign earlier this week. Weekly Standard magazine reporter John McCormack went to a Scozzafava appearance to ask about her stances on union card-check legislation and other issues. Despite his persistent questioning, she refused to respond. After the meeting, Ms. Scozzafava’s husband, a union organizer, insisted the police investigate the incident. Mr. McCormack was questioned and let go, even as the Scozzafava campaign accused him of “screaming” questions at their candidate.
Mr. McCormack promptly produced his tape of the meeting, which showed he never raised his voice. The Scozzafava campaign was forced to retract its accusation.
Mr. Hoffman has created a radio ad that simulates a “911” call to the police from a Scozzafava campaign worker apparently distressed at being asked questions. The make-believe aide says about Ms. Scozzafava: “She’s a professional politician. Who has the right to ask her questions? Her campaign’s going to get killed if taxpayers find out how liberal Scozzafava is.”
This race will have many twists and turns before the November 3 election. President Obama has just emailed supporters an endorsement of Democrat Bill Owens, who narrowly leads both Ms. Scozzafava and Mr. Hoffman in the latest polls. Anything can happen in this race, but it looks increasingly like the Republican candidate may be slipping into third place. A poll last week showed Mr. Hoffman at 23%, only six points behind Ms. Scozzafava.
(John Fund is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal)