PLATTSBURGH - If Doug Hoffman wins the Republican primary on Sept. 14, it looks like it will be a two-way race between him and Democratic incumbent Rep. Bill Owens.
If Hoffman loses, it looks like it'll be a three-way race between him on the Conservative line, Matt Doheny on the Republican line and Owens. But Hoffman might not have the backing of the Tea Party in this case.
Doheny also has the Independence Party line this year, so his name will be on the ballot in November no matter what, but he has said consistently that he will back the winner of the Republican primary, a stance he reiterated at Wednesday night's debate with Hoffman at the West Side Ballroom at the former Air Force base.
(Enterprise file photo)
There are 160,000 active registered Republicans in New York's 23rd Congressional District, Doheny said after the debate, and "I will trust the judgment of those voters. My opponent should as well."
Hoffman, who has said several times over the past months that whether he would stay in the race if he lost the primary is a "hypothetical" question and did not directly answer it, said Wednesday night that candidates who have the Conservative line have to agree to stay on it until the general election.
Hoffman called Doheny "the spoiler in this race," saying he was trying to get the Republican line knowing he couldn't also get the Conservative. Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long had said since the beginning of this year that Hoffman would have his party's support, and Hoffman is already on the ballot as a Conservative.
Hoffman ran for the seat as a Conservative last year and lost to Owens by about 3,600 votes. He said Doheny was also offered Conservative Party support last year, after the Republicans nominated moderate Dede Scozzafava to run for Congress, but Doheny "didn't step up to the plate and fight for the people of the 23rd District last year.
"It was given to me fair and square," Hoffman said of the Conservative Party's backing.
Doheny said he refused the Conservative line last year because he and all the others who sought the Republican nod then - including Hoffman - had pledged to support the Republican nominee.
"I don't penalize Doug for that, but please don't penalize me for living up to my word," Doheny said.
The Upstate New York Tea Party, which sponsored Wednesday's debate, has endorsed Hoffman. What if Hoffman loses the primary?
"We're going to do whatever it takes to get Bill Owens unelected," said UNYTEA Chairman Mark Barie, who moderated the debate.
Barie said a three-way race would increase the chances of an Owens victory. He said he couldn't say what UNYTEA would do, as the group's steering committee would have to decide that, but he hoped everyone would unite behind the winner of the primary. The steering committee will meet the day after the primary to decide, Barie said.
"Primaries are like family fights" he said - vicious, but afterward you "try to forget and move on.
"Our object is to take back the Congress (with a Republican majority)."
One of the deciding factors would be how much support Hoffman gets from other Republicans and Tea Party figures if he loses the primary, Barie said.