BREWERTON — Douglas L. Hoffman's Conservative campaign for Congress had an inauspicious start Friday when the party's boss overshadowed his press conference with an unprovoked skewering of the Republican nominee.
"Dede Scozzafava is becoming the poster girl for the New York Times," said state Conservative Chairman Michael Long, rapping a copy of The Gray Lady for effect. "When you think about it, she is clearly becoming the Bernie Madoff of New York politics. She is running the biggest, biggest scam on the Republican Party that I've seen in years."
That "scam," Mr. Long said at a press conference at Castaways Riverside Restaurant, was "posing as a Republican when she's really not a bona fide Republican."
Mr. Hoffman stood frozen. Minutes earlier, six Conservative county chairs and two regional vice chairmen had recommended that the Lake Placid accountant become the party's nominee for the 23rd Congressional District seat.
In light of the chairman's comments, the new nominee-to-be was asked about the tenor of this race.
"I intend to run a positive campaign," Mr. Hoffman said. "It's important that the voters understand who the candidates are and what they stand for. The statements that were made here today were just statements of fact, not anything more than that."
And what did the accountant make of Mr. Long's comparison between the state assemblywoman from Gouverneur and the New York City financier who swindled millions from unsuspecting individuals?
"I have no comment on that," he said. "Those are Chairman Long's comments."
Mr. Long said he would not retract his statement.
David Catalfamo, Ms. Scozzafava's campaign spokesman, said Mr. Long's comments were "sad and pathetic."
Conservative leaders said they could not support Ms. Scozzafava, who supports abortion and gay marriage rights, and started actively recruiting their own candidates after Republicans picked the Gouverneur resident on July 22. Jim Kelly, Wilmington, Jon Alvarez, Hannibal and Salvatore Stassi, Fulton, all dropped their brief candidacies Friday and supported Mr. Hoffman.
The Conservative party endorsed most of Ms. Scozzafava's prior Assembly campaigns, even as recently as 2006.
Conservative leaders repeatedly have pointed out that Ms. Scozzafava scored a 15 out of 100 on the party's 2008 ranking system, in which they compared voting records on 20 priority bills to the party's position on those bills. The assemblywoman scored a 40 in 2004, a 52 in 2005, a 40 in 2006 and a 56 in 2007.
"Since 2004, she has consistently voted wrong," said Mr. Long. "We ultimately stripped her of our endorsement because she had shifted to the left. She took the Working Families Party endorsement, which is nothing more than a political front organization for ACORN."
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is a New Orleans-based grassroots organization for low- and moderate-income individuals. It is perhaps best known for being at the epicenter of an allegation made by Republicans during the 2008 presidential campaign over voter fraud.
Ms. Scozzafava ran on the Working Families and Conservative party lines in 2004. The assemblywoman had intended to do the same in 2006 until she lost the lines in a petition challenge.
For his part, Mr. Hoffman tried to stick to his message Friday. He decried deficit spending by the federal government and touted his ability to create jobs locally. The accountant said the nation's health care system needed to be improved, but said he did not support spending $1 trillion over the next decade when he knew the nation could not afford it.
Mr. Hoffman said federal stimulus funds were far too often used to plug budget shortfalls instead of creating jobs and catalyzing the economy.
The candidate also opposes the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which creates a "cap-and-trade" model to address global warming, because it creates "more regulations, more hidden fees (and) made changes that are going to hit individuals and businesses."
Rep. John M. McHugh, the Pierrepont Manor Republican who represents the district, voted for the bill. It has not passed the Senate.
While Mr. Hoffman has been happy to talk about issues, he's been reluctant to discuss other campaign particulars. He said there were national organizations that would financially support his campaign, but refused to identify them or say how much money he had raised to date. He also again declined to say who would staff key positions in his campaign.
Parties have lined up candidates in anticipation of Mr. McHugh resigning to become Army secretary. They can't legally designate candidates until there's a vacancy, so leaders could change their minds. The U.S. Senate will not act on Mr. McHugh's nomination until September.
Conservatives are hoping Republicans have a change of heart. The district's six Conservative county chairs and two regional vice chairmen sent a letter Friday to Michael Steele, Republican National Committee chairman. They expressed their "deep concern" with the pick of Ms. Scozzafava and asked him to investigate the way she was selected.
"If the Republican Party truly wants to engage its most Conservative base and get back to the strong, consolidated platform that will regain national influence, it would do well to do so at this grassroots level," the letter concluded.
Conservatives barely acknowledged at their press conference Friday that there will be a third candidate in this race besides Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Scozzafava. Local Democratic chairs will pick their nominee Monday from a pool of 11 hopefuls.