New York's 23rd congressional district special election, 2009

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New York's 23rd congressional district special election, 2009
New York
2008 ←
November 3, 2009 (2009-11-03) → 2010

  Bill Owens official photo.jpg No image placeholder.gif Scozzafava.jpg
Nominee Bill Owens Doug Hoffman Dierdre Scozzafava
(Withdrew)
Party Democratic Conservative Republican
Popular vote 73,137 69,553 8,582
Percentage 48.3% 46.0% 5.7%

New York District 23 109th US Congress.png


Representative before election

John M. McHugh
Republican

Elected Representative

Bill Owens
Democratic

The 2009 special election for New York's 23rd congressional district was held on November 3, 2009, to select the successor to Republican John M. McHugh. McHugh was nominated to become United States Secretary of the Army on June 2, 2009 and resigned as representative of New York's 23rd congressional district on September 21, 2009 after being confirmed by the Senate.[1][2]

The Democratic Party and the Working Families Party nominated businessman and attorney Bill Owens, and the Conservative Party of New York nominated businessman and accountant Doug Hoffman. The Republican Party and Independence Party nominated State Assembly member Dierdre Scozzafava, who withdrew from the race three days before the election[3] and endorsed Owens.[4] On Election Day, Owens defeated Hoffman.[5]

The 2009 special election received significant national attention, and was alternately described as "a referendum on President Barack Obama" and "a fight over the identity of the Republican Party."[6][7] The race was also noteworthy due to the Tea Party movement influence on its outcome,[8][9] and for its impact on same-sex marriage legislation in New York.[10][11][12]

Background[edit]

New York's 23rd congressional district has historically been one of the most Republican districts in the United States. The district's seat had been in Republican hands since 1873.[13] The far northern portion of the district—including the largest city, Watertown—had not been represented by a Democrat since the 1850s. In parts of the district, the last non-Republican to represent the district had been a Whig.[14] McHugh was first elected in 1992, and was reelected eight times with over 60% of the vote, including running unopposed in 2002. Republicans also dominated most other levels of government as well; well into the 1990s most of the district's living residents had never been represented by a Democrat above the county level.

Although McHugh was consistently elected with over 60% of the vote, in recent years the district has been more competitive in United States presidential elections. George W. Bush narrowly carried the district in both 2004 against John Kerry, 51%–47%. He also would have carried the district in 2000 against Al Gore under the current boundaries (49%–47%).[15] However, Gore narrowly defeated Bush in what was then the 24th district in 2000,[16] repeating Bill Clinton's victory there in 1996. Barack Obama defeated John McCain in the district 52%–47% in 2008.[15]

Democrats had also recently done well at the state level. In a 2008 special election for New York's 48th State Senate district (which is coextensive with the northwestern portion of the 23rd congressional district and includes Watertown), Democratic Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine defeated heavily favored Republican Assemblyman Will Barclay. Aubertine became the first Democrat to represent what is now the 48th Senate district in over a century.[17] The seat had been held by Republican James W. Wright for 18 years and by McHugh for seven years before that. Aubertine won a full term with 53 percent of the vote in November 2008.

On September 29, 2009, New York Governor David Paterson issued a proclamation setting the special election to fill the vacancy for November 3, 2009, to coincide with the 2009 general election.[18][19] New York law does not provide for a primary election in cases of a special election for a vacant House seat. Instead, each party's nominee is chosen by that party's county leaders within the district.[20]

Candidates[edit]

Republican[edit]

Seven Republicans announced their intentions to run, including Paul Maroun, aide to State Senator Betty Little; State Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava (whose district is largely coextensive with the northwestern portion of the congressional district); Doug Hoffman, businessman and accountant; Ronald Uva, obstetrician and gynecologist; Joshua Lynch, Waddington native; Matthew Doheny, investment portfolio manager; and Gary Cooke, Essex County veterinarian.[21] Three other Republicans, Robert Taub, McHugh's chief of staff,[22] State Senator Joseph Griffo,[23] and State Assemblyman Will Barclay[24] were considered potential candidates, but all declined to run.

Scozzafava was designated as the Republican nominee and Hoffman later received the nomination of the Conservative Party of New York. On October 31, 2009, Scozzafava suspended her campaign[25] and, on November 1, 2009, endorsed the Democratic candidate for the seat.[26]

Democratic[edit]

State Senator Darrel Aubertine, who represents most of the northern portion of the congressional district, was the most widely rumored potential Democratic candidate, but he declined.[27] State Senator David Valesky, who represents most of the southern portion of the congressional district, initially said he was interested in running, but later decided against it.[22][28] It was reported that the Democratic party leaders hesitated to nominate either Valesky or Aubertine because the Democrats had a shaky two-seat majority in the State Senate. Aubertine and Valesky are two of only seven Democrats in the chamber from outside New York City.[29] Also declining to run was assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell, whose district includes Watertown.

Other potential candidates included Andrew Bisselle, director of the YMCA Camp Dudley, a Republican who said his views mirrored those of Blue Dog Democrats;[30] Stuart Brody, former chairman of the Upstate Democratic Conference;[31] Steve Burke, St. Lawrence County resident;[32] Danny M. Francis, 1994 Democratic candidate;[33] Robert J. Johnson, 2004 and 2006 candidate for the seat;[31] Rudy Johnson, engineering consultant and retired United States Army veteran;[32] Brian S. McGrath, Manhattan attorney, originally from Lowville;[34] Mike Oot, 2008 Democratic candidate;[32] David Ryan, Franklin County resident;[32] and John T. Sullivan, Jr., former mayor of Oswego, New York.[35]

The chair of the New York Democratic Party stated that Scozzafava's husband had spoken with key local Democrats about the possibility of her switching to the Democratic Party before running for the seat.[36]

The party eventually selected Bill Owens, a military veteran and attorney from Plattsburgh.[31]

Conservative[edit]

Jim Kelly, a retired police officer and activist from Wilmington,[37] Jon Alvarez, a military serviceman from Hannibal who is currently serving in Afghanistan,[38] Salvatore Stassi, a police officer from Fulton,[39] and Doug Hoffman, an accountant from Lake Placid who had previously run for the Republican nomination, each made presentations to the Conservative Party of New York in August. The committee chose Doug Hoffman after the three other potential candidates said they would support him,[39] even though Hoffman did not live in the district.[40]

Hoffman had previously sought the Republican nomination. In July, when Scozzafava was nominated instead, he offered to help her. His email to her read: "Hi Dede, Congratulations and the best of luck in your candidacy. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Doug."[41] Shortly thereafter, however, he contacted Conservative Party leaders, seeking support for his own candidacy.[42] Hoffman later stated, "I never promised that I would support Dede Scozzafava."[41] One Republican leader said that Hoffman, while seeking the Republican nomination, had "repeatedly" pledged to support the nominee.[43]

Other parties[edit]

The chairman of the Independence Party of New York announced that the party would have cross-endorsed Aubertine had he run,[44] but with his decision not to run, the party instead backed Scozzafava.[45] After she suspended her campaign, the state chairman of the party endorsed Bill Owens, though several local chairmen instead endorsed Hoffman.[46] Scozzafava remained on the ballot on the Independence Party line (as well as the Republican line).

The Working Families Party backed Owens.[47] Under New York's fusion rule, Owens's votes on the Democratic line and on the Working Families line were combined into a single total.

Campaign[edit]

The race drew significant national attention because of the relatively large amount of support for a third-party candidate from the national conservative base. Fiscal and social conservative groups backed Hoffman's candidacy, including the Club for Growth, the Susan B. Anthony List, the National Organization for Marriage, Concerned Women for America PAC, Citizens of the Republic, the American Conservative Union, Eagle Forum, and Family Research Council PAC.[48] The Susan B. Anthony List embarked on a $100,000 independent expenditure campaign for Hoffman.[49] Many notable Republicans, including former Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, endorsed Hoffman rather than the Republican candidate because they deemed Scozzafava insufficiently conservative and ideologically indistinguishable from the Democrat.[50][51] Scozzafava also drew strong opposition from the Tea Party movement, with national Tea Party leader Michael Johns saying that his opposition to Scozzafava "was the first time in my 25-year political and policy career that I ever opposed a Republican candidate."[52]

The Hoffman campaign ran television advertisements depicting Scozzafava and Owens as "two peas in a liberal pod."[53] Hoffman indicated support for tax cuts,[54] a pro-life stance on abortion,[55] and support for the traditional definition of marriage,[56] as well as opposition to the Obama health reform proposal,[56] card-check legislation,[57] the Obama stimulus plan,[58] and cap-and-trade legislation.[59]

Scozzafava's record in the New York State Assembly included votes in favor of same-sex marriage,[60] and she had also received an award from a Planned Parenthood affiliate in 2008.[61][62][63] Scozzafava's political positions included support for "card check" legislation,[57] support for federal funding for abortion,[64] support for President Obama's 2009 stimulus package,[65] and a refusal to rule out support for health care reform that includes a "public option."[66] While Bill Owens did not favor public funding for abortion, he did support President Obama's 2009 stimulus package[65] and "card check" legislation.[57]

An October 1, 2009, poll by the Siena Research Institute put Hoffman in third place with 16% support, behind Scozzafava with 35% and Owens with 28%.[67] However, polls taken a few days before the election showed Scozzafava's support collapsing; an October 31 poll showed Scozzafava trailing both Hoffman and Owens by 15% and 16% respectively.

Scozzafava suspended her campaign on October 31.[25][68] In response to the Scozzafava withdrawal, the Republican National Committee (RNC), which had strongly backed Scozzafava’s candidacy, issued a statement applauding her decision and announcing it was now supporting Hoffman.[3] National Democrats immediately began a "vigorous effort" to convince Scozzafava to endorse Owens. Politico reported that Scozzafava was contacted regarding a potential endorsement by Rep. Steve Israel, New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, who had been in touch with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and former New York Democratic Party chair June O'Neill.[69] On November 1, Scozzafava endorsed Democratic nominee Owens.[4]

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, while having initially supported the GOP nominee,[70] remarked that he was "deeply upset" about her endorsement of Owens after Scozzafava's withdrawal from the race.[71] RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele questioned party leaders in upstate New York for using a committee process to select a congressional candidate. "Maybe you should have a primary the next time instead of having 11 guys in a room sit around and select your nominee," said Steele.[3] The New York Republican Party issued a statement saying Scozzafava's endorsement was a "betrayal" of the party and said "In contacting Scozzafava, the Obama White House has once again played its Chicago-style politics here in New York."[69]

Also on November 1, the "Democratic-leaning firm"[72] Public Policy Polling (PPP) released poll results[73] indicating "Hoffman...at 51% to 34% for Bill Owens and 13% for Dede Scozzafava in the poll conducted over the weekend." Noting that the poll was conducted during "somewhat of a tumultuous polling weekend, first with Scozzafava’s withdrawal on Saturday and then with her endorsement of Owens on Sunday", PPP nonetheless remarked that "Hoffman led Owens by 18 points in interviews before Scozzafava’s withdrawal, 19 points in between her withdrawal and the announcement of her endorsement, and by 14 points subsequent to her encouraging people to vote for Owens."

On November 2, one day before the election, Siena released the results of a new poll showing Hoffman leading Owens 41% to 36%.[74] Vice President Joe Biden appeared with Owens at a campaign rally in Watertown on November 3, while former U.S. Senator and 2008 presidential candidate Fred Thompson appeared with Hoffman.[75]

On Election Day, police were called to at least two polling sites in St. Lawrence County following "overzealous electioneering" by supporters of Hoffman.[76] Later, Hoffman accused the Democratic Party of "bringing in ACORN" and trying to "steal this election away from the 23rd district", asserting that a campaign volunteer's tires had been slashed.[77] Anton Troianovski of The Wall Street Journal later quoted Captain Michael Branch of the Plattsburgh City Police Department as saying "This was not a tire slashing—this was some guy who drove over a bottle and cut his tire."[78]

Polling[edit]

Source Date Dierdre Scozzafava Bill Owens Doug Hoffman
Siena Research Institute[79][80] November 2, 2009 6% 36% 41%
Public Policy Polling[73] November 1, 2009 13% 34% 51%
Siena Research Institute[81] October 26–28, 2009 20% 36% 35%
Research 2000[82] October 26–28, 2009 21% 33% 32%
Neighborhood Research§[83] October 25–26, 2009 14% 29% 34%
Basswood Research[84] October 24–25, 2009 20% 27% 31%
Research 2000[85] October 19–21, 2009 30% 35% 23%
Siena Research Institute[86] October 11–13, 2009 29% 33% 23%
Siena Research Institute[87] September 29, 2009 35% 28% 16%
Basswood Research[88] September 17, 2009 20% 17% 17%
McLaughlin & Associates[89] September 9, 2009 30% 20% 19%

† Poll commissioned by Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman
‡ Poll commissioned by the Club for Growth, which endorses Doug Hoffman
§ Poll commissioned by the Minuteman PAC, which endorses Doug Hoffman

Endorsements[edit]

Dierdre Scozzafava[edit]

Changes After Withdrawal
No Known Change Endorsed Owens Endorsed Hoffman
Oswego County ATV Club[90] New York State United Teachers[91] House Minority Leader John Boehner[92]
The Wish List[93] Watertown Daily Times[94] Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee[95][96]
State Senator Betty Little[97] Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich[98][99]
Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward[97] Representative Jeb Hensarling, former Republican Study Committee Chair[100]
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey[97] New York State Young Republicans[101]
Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, former Assembly Minority Leader[102] Assemblyman Will Barclay[103][104]
Assemblyman Robert Oaks[103] National Rifle Association[105]
John Faso, former Assembly Minority Leader, 2002 comptroller candidate and 2006 gubernatorial candidate[106] Assemblyman David Townsend[103][107]
Daily Kos founder, Markos Moulitsas[108] Jeffrey Graham, mayor of Watertown[109]
US Senator Susan Collins[110]
Representative Ginny Brown-Waite[110]
Former Representative Tom Reynolds, former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee[111]
Representative Peter King[106]

Bill Owens[edit]

Doug Hoffman[edit]

Results[edit]

2009 NY-23 special congressional election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Owens 66,548
Working Families Bill Owens 6,589
Total Bill Owens 73,137 48.3 +14.0
Conservative Doug Hoffman 69,553 46.0
Republican Dede Scozzafava 7,260
Independence Dede Scozzafava 1,322
Total Dede Scozzafava 8,582 5.7 -59.6
Majority 3,584 2.4 -28.2
Turnout 151,272 -24.0
Democratic gain from Republican Swing 13.6

On Election Day, Owens appeared to defeat Hoffman, with the margin of defeat initially reported as 49.0% to 45.5%. Although Hoffman initially conceded, an initial re-canvass resulted in a Hoffman gain of approximately 2000 votes before military and absentee ballots were further factored in. Poll inspectors reported Mr. Hoffman had inadvertently received zero votes in four districts.[178]

With absentee ballots having yet to be tallied, the results of the election could not be officially certified by the State of New York, though Owens was sworn in based upon unofficial results.[179] Owens was seated in time to vote "yea" on the Affordable Health Care for America Act on November 7, 2009.[180]

Hoffman withdrew his concession on November 17, 2009.[181] On November 18, in a letter posted on his campaign website, Hoffman declared that "ACORN, the unions and Democratic Party...tampered with the ballots of voters in NY-23."[182] Jerry O. Eaton, Jefferson County Republican elections commissioner, called Hoffman's assertion "absolutely false".[183] On November 19, the Gouverneur Times alleged that a computer virus had "tainted" results and "cast doubt on the accuracy of the counts retrieved from any of the machines."[184] John Conklin, director of public information for the NY State Board of Elections, stated that "the article...unfortunately quoted a single word from a commissioner who mischaracterized the issue in question."[185] Hoffman later retracted his accusations.

With the tallying of absentee-ballots near completion, on November 20, 2009, Owens' lead over Hoffman surpassed the total number of absentee ballots left, making it mathematically impossible for Hoffman to win.[184] On November 24, Hoffman ended his campaign, stating "...it is with a heavy heart that we declare this election over. We will formally end this election and not ask for a recount."[186] The final election results showed that Owens prevailed by a margin of 48.3% to 46%.[187]

Owens was later re-elected in 2010 and 2012.

Analysis[edit]

While some observers called the race "a referendum on President Barack Obama" and "a fight over the identity of the Republican Party",[6][7] others saw "a victory for populist conservatism".[188] One commentator stated that "Hoffman's third-party candidacy is striking for how much it has galvanized the Republican Party's base."[189] According to one commentator, "[t]ea party conservatives see the GOP loss as a victory for conservativism over mere political party loyalty. They’re describing the defeat as a warning shot fired in defense of principle."[190] According to Marilyn Musgrave of Susan B. Anthony List, "Republican party leaders in Washington should take the message of the campaign and the election seriously, that the Party base should not be taken for granted."[190] Elected officials and observers opined that Scozzafava's showing in the congressional race had an impact on the New York State Senate's December 2, 2009 vote against same-sex marriage legislation.[10][11][12]

References[edit]

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