Douglas L. Hoffman announced Tuesday that the toll of waging a third-party bid for the 23rd Congressional District seat would be too great to continue campaigning.
Fearing he could "potentially leave Congress in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic party," the one-time tea party icon urged his supporters to cast their vote for the candidate who edged him in the Republican primary, Matthew A. Doheny.
The Saranac Lake accountant acknowledged that he and the Watertown portfolio manager "may have differed on some issues during the course of the race" — most notably, Mr. Doheny's support for abortion during the first trimester.
But in a note to supporters, the Conservative candidate said: "If we truly believe in advancing this movement and reclaiming Congress and our nation, we must all make sacrifices and set aside our egos and our personal dreams."
Immediately after his decision became public, Republicans showered praise on the candidate who, until recently, they considered the biggest threat to siphon votes from their nominee.
Mr. Doheny, while touting an endorsement of Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon in Watertown, called his former opponent a "great north country man" and said he was "excited and humbled" to now have Mr. Hoffman's support.
Kenneth Spain, the National Republican Campaign Committee's spokesman, called Mr. Hoffman's announcement a "selfless decision."
And Mark L. Barie, chairman of the Upstate New York Tea Party, said Mr. Hoffman's decision was likely "painful," but "it proves what his supporters have said all along: Doug Hoffman is a class act."
Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said Mr. Hoffman's decision does not alter his campaign strategy and rebuffed a reporter's suggestion Tuesday that he might be concerned about Mr. Hoffman's supporters coalescing behind Mr. Doheny.
Mr. Hoffman, whose campaign was lagging well behind in fundraising, said he was concerned about the financial impact of a continued campaign. The former candidate said he also worried about the campaign having a negative impact on his family and his accounting businesses.
But the candidate suggested he truly considered these impacts after Sept. 23, when he told supporters he would stay in the race not "out of spite or because of self conceived virtues," but "because of the failings of my opponents to be truthful with the voters."
He added at that time: "I will give voters a choice between two fast talking lawyers and a small businessman who will speak the truth."
Mr. Hoffman's announcement comes far too late to get him removed from the Nov. 2 ballot. He'll still appear as the Conservative candidate, unless he dies or moves out of the state.
A similar scenario occurred last fall, when Republican Dierdre K. Scozzafava dropped out of the congressional race three days before the special election.
Despite urging voters to support Mr. Owens, Ms. Scozzafava still drew about 5.5 percent of the final tally on the Republican and Independence parties' lines. Mr. Hoffman finished second in that race, but was commended, as Mr. Barie said Tuesday, for taking on "the entire Republican establishment in an effort to ensure that we had a real choice in last year's special election."
The tea party chairman added: "In short order, the eyes of an entire nation were fixed upon that shy and unassuming CPA who would lead us into battle. It was a struggle that would ignite tea party campaigns all across the country. He was our hero. He still is."
Now Mr. Barie and some of his 1,000 member group will focus on getting Mr. Doheny elected. The candidate received a bit of a boost Tuesday when Mr. McKeon promised to seat Mr. Doheny on the House Armed Services Committee if the Republicans reclaimed the majority and he remained chairman of that committee.
Mr. McKeon did not promise to help Mr. Doheny if Democrats continued to control the House after mid-term elections and the California congressman remained the committee's ranking minority member.
Before the news conference, Mr. McKeon met with Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of the 10th Mountain Division and watched 3rd Brigade soldiers train for their spring deployment to Afghanistan.
Times Staff Writer Daniel Woolfolk contributed to this report.