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Scozzafava endorses Owens

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Former candidate Dierdre K. Scozzafava is getting praise from Democrats and condemnation from Republicans after she announced Sunday afternoon she will back Democratic candidate William L. Owens in the 23rd Congressional District race.

Ms. Scozzafava, once the Republican candidate for the seat, suspended her campaign and released supporters to support whom they would on Saturday. Many Republicans, including state and national committees, endorsed Douglas L. Hoffman, the Conservative candidate. Labor unions, which had been backing the moderate assemblywoman, swiftly shifted their support to Mr. Owens.

Ms. Scozzafava's statement, issued about 2 p.m. Sunday, said Mr. Owens would provide leadership in Drum Country.

"In Bill Owens, I see a sense of duty and integrity that will guide him beyond political partisanship," she wrote in her statement. "He will be an independent voice devoted to doing what is right for New York. Bill understands this district and its people, and when he represents us in Congress he will put our interests first."

Mr. Owens said he was "honored" by the endorsement.

"Over the course of her career, Dede has always committed to serving the people of Upstate New York before serving a partisan agenda," he said in a statement. "Now more than ever we need bipartisan solutions to help bring jobs to Upstate New York to get our economy back on track and move our country forward. Those are the kinds of priorities I will fight for in Congress because that's the kind of leadership Upstate New York needs right now."

Those in the camp of the Conservative candidate Douglas L. Hoffman called Ms. Scozzafava a turncoat.

"This afternoon Dede Scozzafava betrayed the GOP," Hoffman's senior communications adviser, Rob Ryan, said in a statement. "She endorsed a Pelosi Democrat who will spend more, tax more, and push the liberal agenda that is dragging down this nation."

Ms. Scozzafava said she thought "long and hard" about the decision.

A Democratic source said Ms. Scozzafava and her husband, Ronald P. McDougall, met with U.S. Rep. Steve J. Israel, D-Huntington, and state Democratic Committee Chairwoman June F. O'Neill on Saturday afternoon at a restaurant in Gouverneur to discuss the endorsement.

A day later, Mrs. O'Neill, Canton, lauded Ms. Scozzafava for "doing the right thing under extraordinary difficult circumstances." She said there are no discussions right now about Ms. Scozzafava switching parties.

"With Assemblywoman Scozzafava's help, we are getting people to focus on the high stakes of this election on Tuesday," she said. "It is important to send a message to the radical right: This is not how we operate in the north country."

Ms. Scozzafava also was encouraged to back Mr. Owens by political heavy hitters, including Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

The senator's spokesman, Maxwell Young, said the senator called a number of north country political leaders after Ms. Scozzafava suspended her campaign and had more than one conversation with the Republican candidate ahead of her announcement. He said the senator also called other Democratic leaders about the situation, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

State Republican Committee Chairman Edward F. Cox called it a "corrupt bargain."

"Dede Scozzafava's endorsement today represents a betrayal of the people of the north country and the people of her party," he said. "In contacting Scozzafava, the Obama White House has once again played its Chicago-style politics here in New York."

The state's Conservative Party agreed.

"Well, it is really no surprise," Chairman Michael R. Long said in a statement. "We always said Assemblywoman Scozzafava and Bill Owens were a pair of liberals."

The state's Young Republicans organization called Ms. Scozzafava "driven by bitterness."

Ms. Scozzafava's decision to abandon the race, then back her former Democratic foe led national political pundits to argue over whether moderates are still accepted in the Republican Party.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said Republican leadership is "becoming more and more extreme and more and more marginalized."

John Brabender, a veteran Republican consultant, said it's dangerous for the GOP to lump people together by label and suggest there's no room for moderates.

"I think it's about how moderate, and how likely are they to be voting with Republicans," he said. "I think it would be too grand of a statement to say moderates have a target on their back."

In the north country, the Jefferson County Republican Committee joined the Lewis and St. Lawrence committees Sunday in endorsing Mr. Hoffman.

"It looks like a campaign almost totally on national issues," Jefferson County Republican Committee Chairman Donald G.M. Coon said Sunday morning. "In that case, Doug Hoffman is the candidate to elect and carry on the Republican ideals."

Just five days earlier, Mr. Coon had called on Mr. Hoffman to drop out of the race.

"Dede was a good fit for our district and local issues," Mr. Coon said. "It's pretty clear those issues are not what voters are focusing on."

The National Republican Congressional Committee sought to add power to its endorsement of Mr. Hoffman by extending him the same promise of a key committee position once offered to Ms. Scozzafava. On Sunday, the leaders said they would support Mr. Hoffman for the House Armed Services Committee, a key platform for supporting Fort Drum, when a seat is next available.

Former Rep. John M. McHugh, now secretary of the Army, sat on the committee.

"The strategic and economic importance of this military base to Central and Northern New York demands that anyone representing this district be in a position to support its needs," House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement.

After Ms. Scozzafava backed Mr. Owens, the NRCC responded.

"The candidate best positioned and suited to protect Fort Drum and continue the legacy of John McHugh is Doug Hoffman, and the pledge from Republican leadership to secure support for him on the House Armed Services Committee affirms that," NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain said in a statement.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who early in the race endorsed Ms. Scozzafava, said he was "deeply upset" that she had endorsed Mr. Owens. Mr. Gingrich is now backing Mr. Hoffman.

Other Republicans also endorsed Mr. Hoffman during the weekend. The list includes state Senate Republican Leader Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockland Centre, gubernatorial candidate Rick A. Lazio, former gubernatorial candidate and Assembly leader John J. Faso, former state senator and Oneida County Executive Raymond A. Meier, state Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Matthew A. Burns, Ms. Scozzafava's campaign spokesman until Saturday, also has backed Mr. Hoffman.

The Franklin County Republican Committee also announced its endorsement of Mr. Hoffman.

The special election to decide who will fill former U.S. Rep. McHugh's seat is Tuesday.

Times Washington correspondent Marc Heller and wire services contributed to this report.

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