06 October 2010

Whatever Happened to Doug Hoffman?

A small item in the local paper marks the apparent end of a nearly-meteoric political career: Conservative party congressional candidate Doug Hoffman has abandoned his second campaign to represent the 23rd District of New York in the House of Representatives and endorsed his Republican rival, Matt Doheny. Here's a more detailed version of events.

Hoffman, who nearly defeated Democrat Bill Owens as the Conservative candidate in a special election last year, was expected to win this year's GOP primary, but was upset by Doheny. Hoffman captured national attention as one of the most serious and successful challengers to Republican hegemony over conservative voters, benefiting from rank-and-file discontent with an anointed Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, who was perceived by some as more liberal than the Democrat in the race. Scozzafava eventually dropped out of the race. While Hoffman lost the final vote, a star seemed to have been born and his takeover of the local GOP was taken as a foregone conclusion. But just as they did last year, local Republican leaders opposed Hoffman, this time in favor of Doheny, who proved more palatable to the rank and file than Scozzafava. Hoffman tried to make abortion a major issue in the primary, noting that Doheny would permit abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy, and portrayed his rival as a "fast-talking lawyer" who represented Wall Street rather than Main Street. While Hoffman secured the Conservative line for a second time and recently won a Right-to-Life endorsement, many local observers felt that he ran a disorganized and ill-prepared campaign.

Once he lost the primary (it should be recalled that there was no primary for the special election) Hoffman rapidly lost credibility as an independent challenger. The feeling was that if he'd lost the GOP primary when it was his for the taking due to his fresh celebrity, he was a hopelessly flawed campaigner with less chance for victory than ever. His fate was apparently sealed when the Upstate New York Tea Party indicated that they were ready to abandon Hoffman in favor of Doheny. Determined to deny Democrats continued control of Congress, the UNYTEA deemed compromise the order of the day and urged Hoffman to put ideological solidarity before personal ambition. In short, they appealed to lesser-evilism and declared their willingness to settle for Doheny's degree of conservatism over Hoffman's presumably purer brew. Hoffman himself, his finances uncertain in the absence of the national support he enjoyed last year, finally accepted this logic and withdrew. His name will remain on the ballot since, unlike Rick Lazio, he has no judicial nomination to accept, but it'll only attract last-ditch protest voters in November.

The anti-Democratic hysteria whipped up by the right-wing media may have destroyed the potential for independent political action on the "right" for the foreseeable future. Lesser-evilism prevails among reactionaries who can imagine no worse fate for the country than continued Democratic rule. While it appears that Matt Doheny is a legitimately lesser evil for conservatives than Dede Scozzafava, it also seems that the Democrats are a greater evil than ever in their eyes. One wonders what would have happened had Scozzafava run in and won this year's primary. Would conservatives have settled for her rather than take another chance on Hoffman? The fact that she didn't run may be victory enough for conservatives in NY23, but the fact remains that they chose a candidate anointed by the same people, as far as I can tell, who anointed Scozzafava last year. What sort of victory is that? Only the future can tell.

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