As a rule, special elections held to fill open congressional seats aren't the most exciting events. But the campaign in New York's 23rd congressional district is starting to get pretty interesting, with an intra-party squabble on the Republican side of things getting more juice by the day.
The district leans Republican, and the seat has been in the GOP's hands to this point -- the race is being held because Rep. John McHugh resigned when President Obama named him secretary of the Army. But it's still upstate New York, which may be more conservative than the state as a whole but is still pretty moderate by comparison to other Republican-dominated areas of the country. So the party chose a moderate, State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, as its nominee. That enraged conservative activists, who've given their support instead to third-party candidate Doug Hoffman.
Scozzafava still enjoys the support of establishment Republicans, but her campaign's been imploding quite publicly lately under the strain of Hoffman's candidacy. Now, the independent is getting a further boost as the GOP continues to splinter over the race. In an appearance on Laura Ingraham's radio show Wednesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., appeared to endorse Hoffman, saying, "Hoffman is on the ascendancy,” she said, “and we have to win this seat, and people need to get behind the winning candidate, and it looks like that’s Hoffman.” (As David Weigel points out, Hoffman's actually polling in third place; the Democrat, Bill Owens, is in first place.)
Bachmann has a fair amount of conservative supporters these days. But she doesn't have anything close to the star power of another woman rumored to be ready to endorse Hoffman: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
At this point, even an endorsement from Palin probably wouldn't be enough to put Hoffman over the top. But it could certainly have an impact, if not on this race than on the candidates Republicans pick for 2010; the national party would probably be forced to go farther to the right than it would like in some areas, which could benefit Democrats.