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Shouldn't the Republican Establishment Help a Republican Win a Congressional Seat?

7:40 AM, Oct 16, 2009 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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A new poll in the November 3 special election for the congressional seat, NY-23, vacated by Army Secretary John McHugh, confirms what knowledgeable observers have suspected for a while: The candidacy of the official Republican nominee, liberal Dede Scozzafava, selected by local party officials and supported by the national Republican establishment, is collapsing. The Republican who has a real chance to defeat Democrat Bill Owens is Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate-a Republican with a profile far more like the popular McHugh, and one far more in sync with the district. What's more, if elected, Hoffman would caucus in Congress with Republicans-whereas Scozzafava could well pull an Arlen Specter and defect to the Democrats.

Two weeks ago, the Siena poll had Scozzafava at 35%, Owens at 28%, and Hoffman at 16%. Now Scozzafava, at 29%, trails Owens by 4-and leads Hoffman, who has risen to 23%, by only 6, compared to her 19 point lead over Hoffman two weeks ago. This despite a full-court press for Scozzafava by the state and national GOP establishment-including press releases from the National Republican Congressional Committee attacking Hoffman.

The new poll shows Democrats are coming home to Owens, and that Hoffman is leading among independents. (Scozzafava is running third among independents.) This suggests he's a far more viable candidate than Scozzafava in the stretch run, especially if Republicans were to begin to coalesce around him-which might well happen if the GOP establishment stopped propping up Scozzafava. Most tellingly, the more voters learn about Scozzafava the less they like her: 67 percent of voters have seen a Scozzafava commercial (only 33 percent have seen a Hoffman commercial). But, by an amazing margin of 28-12 percent, those who've seen Scozzafava's commercials say those ads make them less likely to support her. Overall, Scozzafava's favorable-unfavorable rating has gone in the last two weeks from plus 13 (33-20) to plus 5 (37-32); Owens has been stable at about plus 10: and Hoffman has gone from plus 3 (16-13) to plus 8 (23-15).

So Hoffman has the momentum and a chance to win, while Scozzafava is fading. It's probably too late for the national and state Republicans to reverse their foolish initial blessing of Scozzafava-but surely they could at least stop attacking Hoffman, spend what money they're going to spend attacking Owens, give up on pressuring high profile Republicans not to go in to help Hoffman, and therefore give Hoffman a decent chance to win.

Today, the Wall Street Journal has a story on the race with the headline Tea-Party Activists Complicate Republican Comeback Strategy. The truth is the opposite: The GOP establishment complicates the Republican and conservative comeback strategy.