Conservatives stepped up their attacks on state Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava Thursday, vowing to find a more right-leaning candidate to run against her for Rep. John M. McHugh's congressional seat.
"There's positively, absolutely no way the Conservative Party would be endorsing DeDe Scozzafava for this seat," said Jim Kelly, a potential candidate who was campaign manager for former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's opponent in 2006.
Mr. Kelly emerged Thursday as the main rival Ms. Scozzafava might face from the political right. State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long said he could not rule out that others will come forward.
Conservatives complained about her selection by the 11 county GOP chairpersons in the 23rd Congressional District, focusing on her support of abortion rights and gay marriage rights.
"I think it creates a problem for the Conservatives," Mr. Long said.
The date for a special election has not been set. Mr. McHugh is still awaiting a confirmation hearing to clear the way for his appointment as secretary of the Army. The hearing could come soon, as the Senate was set to wrap up work on an annual defense bill Thursday night.
Mr. Kelly, who ran John Spencer's campaign against Mrs. Clinton in 2006, called Ms. Scozzafava a "sacrificial lamb" for the Republicans to gain what they really wanted — the state Senate seat of Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, if he ran for Congress. Mr. Aubertine said later in the day that he will not be a candidate.
"That's the real game plan," Mr. Kelly said in a telephone interview.
But Mr. Kelly quickly stepped into a rhetorical mess by calling Ms. Scozzafava a "girl" in an interview posted by a political blog, politickerny.com, on Thursday, and referring to her as a "little assemblywoman" — only to step in political mud again by saying he meant to refer to her with another politically dicey term, "that woman."
The original quote was, "The girl stands for absolutely nothing," to which he added, "She's a little assemblywoman that's part of that Albany mess. The conservative base is going to flee from her. This is going to be a total collapse for the state Republican Party."
Mr. Kelly told the Watertown Daily Times that he used the "girl" phrase as an off-the-cuff remark and had asked the blog reporter, Jimmy Vielkind, to "clean it up" and write "that woman" instead. He said he respects Ms. Scozzafava and her views, even though he does not share them.
Ms. Scozzafava also took some hits from the Democrats, who focused on the tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid tax liens against companies owned by her brother, Thomas W. Scozzafava.
"The facts are clear: Dede Scozzafava spent years touting her leadership role at Seaway Capital Partners, claiming that she was both the Vice President of the company and the Chief Operating Officer," the New York Democratic Committee said in a press release. "But now, after the company has come under fire for having close to $200,000 in unpaid state and federal tax liens, Dede is singing an entirely different tune. Her attempt to distance herself from the company after spending years bragging about her leadership role is blatantly disingenuous at best, and voters deserve answers."
The press release included a statement by June O'Neill, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Committee and a fellow St. Lawrence County resident.
"The facts are quite clear — either Dede Scozzafava spent years overstating her role in the company's operations or she's not being honest right now," Mrs. O'Neill said.
In a telephone interview, Mrs. O'Neill said, "When you list yourself as COO, that's a long way off from being a passive investor."
Ms. Scozzafava has said that her connections to her brother's businesses are distant, that she has no controlling interest or titles, and that the unpaid taxes predate his ownership.