Democrat Bill Owens debates his then-opponent, Republican Dede Scozzafava, last week. Scozzafava dropped out of the race for the 23rd Congressional District seat on Saturday, and has endorsed Owens. Owens is running against conservative Doug Hoffman, who did not attend this debate.
Democrat Bill Owens debates his then-opponent, Republican Dede Scozzafava, last week. Scozzafava dropped out of the race for the 23rd Congressional District seat on Saturday, and has endorsed Owens. Owens is running against conservative Doug Hoffman, who did not attend this debate. Todd Bissonette/AP
On the final full day of campaigning ahead of Tuesday's election, Vice President Biden traveled to upstate New York. He was stumping for a Democrat who had hopes of capturing a House seat that's been in Republican hands since the 1800s.
A bitter rupture — which has divided the GOP into conservative and moderate camps — has helped attract national attention to the race for New York's 23rd Congressional District seat.
Even during the big Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008, this congressional district in northern New York voted solidly Republican.
But at a rally on Monday in Watertown, Biden argued that the conservative movement has drifted too far outside the mainstream.
"They may not have room for moderate views in the Republican Party upstate anymore," Biden said. "But let me assure you: We have room, we have room."
Biden was reacting to the ouster of the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, who quit the race over the weekend.
Scozzafava is pro-choice and supports gay marriage. Conservative activists rejected her and shifted their support to third-party conservative candidate Doug Hoffman.
Right-wing media stars, including Glenn Beck, savaged Scozzafava as someone out of touch with the modern GOP.
"All you have to do is just say, 'My opponent was endorsed by ACORN,' " Beck said, referring to the embattled community activist group. "And she's a Republican!"
In fact, Scozzafava wasn't endorsed by ACORN, but such attacks shredded her fundraising effort. Without the cash to pay for her own ads, Scozzafava's campaign wilted.
"I just feel that type of divisiveness, type of hateful leadership is never going to build a stronger party," Scozzafava said.
On Sunday, Scozzafava shocked the GOP by urging moderate Republicans in the district to vote for the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens.
Hoffman's spokesman, Rob Ryan, accused Scozzafava of treachery.
"Dede Scozzafava betrayed the GOP," Ryan said. "She endorsed Bill Owens, a Pelosi Democrat."
Scozzafava's humiliation at the hands of conservatives and "tea party" activists is echoing throughout the Republican Party.
In a Fox News interview, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich insisted that the party needs Scozzafava's brand of moderate Republicanism.
"This idea that we're suddenly going to establish litmus tests, and all across the country we're going to purge the party of anyone who doesn't agree with us 100 percent, that guarantees Obama's re-election," Gingrich said. "That guarantees Pelosi is [Speaker of the House] for life. I think it's a very destructive model for the Republican Party."
But many other Republican leaders, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and current members of Congress, broke ranks and backed Hoffman.
Tough Call For GOP Voters
In the 23rd District, Republican voters are torn.
"It will be a difficult decision," said Barbara Wells. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet."
Wells lives in Saranac Lake and describes herself as a moderate Republican. She supports smaller government and lower taxes. But she's uncomfortable with what she sees as Hoffman's hard-line social views.
"As far as gay marriage, I don't see anything wrong with that," Wells said. "And same thing with abortion. I don't think the government should tell us what we can and can't do with our own bodies."
While Democrats scramble to capitalize on this Republican identity crisis, conservatives hope to prove that their message offers the best path back to power for Republicans.
They say a victory for Hoffman will serve as a rallying cry against running politicians they describe as "Republican In Name Only."