The Washington Post reports the Obama White House played a critical, behind-the-scenes role in persuading former GOP District 23 congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava to endorse Democrat Bill Owens over Conservative Doug Hoffman.
If true, the Post report reveals a striking example of the administration's penchant for tinkering in regional politics.
Scozzafava pulled out of the race Saturday after falling to a distant third place in the polls. Initially, national GOP leaders praised her decision as "selfless." They endorsed Hoffman, and apparently assumed Scozzafava would do the same.
On Sunday, however, Scozzafava instead endorsed the Democrat. White House officials and left-leaning pundits cited this as evidence of a schism in the GOP, which they say is becoming a narrow party of ideological conservatives.
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New York Republicans have warned that Scozzafava's endorsement could throw the race to the Democrat.
According to a report buried in a Post profile of White House political director Patrick Gaspard published on Monday, the White House spent the weekend trying to lure Scozzafava's endorsement away from the GOP.
"Over the last few days," the Post profile reported, "Gaspard has also had a quiet hand in some of the good news to come Democrats' way.
"Steeped in New York politics, he played a pivotal role in the effort over the weekend to persuade Republican State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava to endorse the Democratic candidate in the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District, two senior White House officials said Sunday."
The report continued: "One senior official added that Gaspard was the 'air traffic controller' of multiple parties as events in the district unfolded. Scozzafava, a rare Republican who supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights, endorsed Bill Owens rather than the Conservative Party candidate two days ahead of Election Day, a major victory for Democrats in arguably the most closely watched contest in the country."
It's not the first time Gaspard has served as the White House's point man in its effort to sway state-level contests. In September, Gaspard was dispatched to encourage N.Y. Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, to give up his race for reelection in 2010.
The New York Times reported that President Obama personally approved the plan to ask Paterson to step aside, adding, "Some Democrats expressed anger at what they saw as heavy-handed tactics by the president's political team."
Paterson subsequently defied the White House and declared that he would stay in the race.
The Post reported Monday that Gaspard declined to be interviewed for its article, and "would not address" e-mail questions about his involvement in New York District 23.
The Post portrayed Gaspard's refusal to cooperate as examples of his humble demeanor, describing him as "the last person to boast about his efforts and the first to bestow credit to larger personalities."
Pollster Frank Luntz told Fox News on Monday that voters don't really care about political endorsements. He predicted that Hoffman would emerge the winner.
A Sienna Research Institute poll released Monday shows Hoffman ahead of Owens by 41 percent to 36 percent, with a very large numbers of undecided voters – 18 percent.
Sienna pollster Steven Greenberg says the many undecided voters make the District 23 outcome unpredictable. He adds that winning the congressional seat "will take a lot more than 41 percent."
A veteran of New York politics, Greenberg tells Newsmax, "This has been the most unconventional congressional race I've seen in New York in a very long time."
President Obama and Democrats have invested substantial amounts of both time and money in tomorrow's contests. Pundits say a series of Democratic loses could be a significant political setback for the president.
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