The Upstate New York Tea Party is going to poll its members to decide what to do, but judging from what its chairman said about Wednesday night's Steering Committee meeting, the group is probably going to switch its support from Doug Hoffman to Matt Doheny.
"The consensus of the Steering Committee is, we would go forward with a poll of our members to see how they felt," UNYTEA Chairman Mark Barie said Thursday afternoon. "The Steering Committee also felt, as I did, that the Hoffman campaign, barring some miraculous reversal in a week or so, is no longer viable."
Barie also discussed Doheny's and Hoffman's stances on issues and decided that, while Doheny may not be as conservative socially, "he's a fiscal conservative, and that's our priority right now."
Doheny and Hoffman are both seeking the Republican nomination to run to represent New York's 23rd Congressional District against incumbent Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh. Doheny was ahead by about 600 votes after the unofficial results of Tuesday night's primary, but boards of elections throughout the district's 11 counties have received back about 2,000 absentee ballots that have yet to be added to the tally.
Hoffman said Wednesday afternoon, after not talking to reporters at his headquarters Tuesday night, that he would wait for the recanvassing of the vote and for the absentees to be tallied before deciding what to do.
UNYTEA had endorsed Hoffman in the primary, and its members have gathered signatures for his petitions and sent out letters on his behalf. Barie was highly critical of Hoffman after the results came in, stopping short of endorsing Doheny but blasting Hoffman's campaign management and staff as inept and out of touch. Barie shared several anecdotes he said illustrated this Wednesday, and said some of the Steering Committee members had examples of their own Wednesday night.
"I think the committee was saddened and disappointed by the turn of events," Barie said. "There's no mistaking the Steering Committee feels like I do. This is bigger than any one candidate; this is bigger than Mark Barie certainly. The mission is to send a fiscal conservative to Washington, and we want to stay on that mission."
UNYTEA has about 1,000 members. The majority of them will be e-mailed surveys, but Barie said about 400 members, mostly older ones, don't have e-mail and will be mailed surveys.
Hoffman would need to garner a very high percentage of the absentees to win the primary. What would UNYTEA do then? Barie said that would be "very awkward" but that there are still "structural flaws" in the Hoffman campaign.
"I think there would have to be a very serious meeting between the tea party and the Hoffman people," Barie said. "We'd need evidence. They would have to change their ways, so to speak."
Hoffman's name will be on the ballot on the Conservative line in November, and he could stay in the race. Barie said he thought this would "only serve as a spoiler candidacy," given the difficulties of running on a third-party line, saying Hoffman couldn't win a three-way race if he wasn't able to beat Doheny in a head-on race.
Barie said most of the reaction from members he has gotten has been, "with a couple exceptions, very positive. There are a couple die-hard Hoffman fans who are very upset, but I think they understand I'm not attacking Doug Hoffman, I'm upset with his team."
Barie admitted it would not be easy for many of UNYTEA's members, who have worked for Hoffman over the past months, to switch if that's what UNYTEA ends up deciding, but he said they would rather see Doheny elected than Owens, which would "hasten the transformation."
"This is bigger than one person; it's the future of our country," Barie said. "Should one of us stumble, somebody has to pick up the baton and keep running."
Owens has already started his campaign, releasing his first television advertisement, "Biggest," on Wednesday. The 32-second spot shows Owens in a variety of settings - on a mountain, in an airplane, on railroad tracks, on a tractor, in front of a windmill - talking about his job creation plan, saying he favors infrastructure improvements and has pushed tax credits for rural businesses and expanding clean-energy manufacturing.