PLATTSBURGH - The race for New York's 23rd Congressional district remains a three-way competition as the runner-up in the Republican primary has pledged to continue his campaign.
Doug Hoffman conceded defeat to his opponent, Watertown investor Matt Doheny, Sept. 23, after results from absentee ballots confirmed Doheny's victory in the Republican primary by a margin of less than 800 votes throughout the 11-county district.
But Hoffman, a Saranac Lake-based accounting firm owner, pledged to "keep his word to the New York State Conservative Party and to all those who believe in conservative principles, honesty and integrity" by staying in the race on the Conservative Party line.
Doheny and Hoffman will now face incumbent Democrat Bill Owens, a Plattsburgh attorney, in the general election Nov. 2.
At a Sept. 23 press conference at his Plattsburgh campaign office, Doheny repeatedly claimed to be unphased by Hoffman's decision, virtually ignoring his presence in the race.
"I'm focused on Bill Owens," Doheny said repeatedly, "and our strategy for the past nine months is going to be the same in the next 40 days: go out and spread our message... and make sure people understand that I am the clear choice."
Hoffman's decision calls to mind his 2009 campaign where, running as a Conservative, he cut down Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava, whom many considered too liberal-leaning.
Hoffman ended up finishing a close second to Owens, but many saw the split among Republican and Conservative voters as the major factor in Owens' win in a district held by Republicans since the Civil War.
Clinton County Republican Party chairman Donald Lee, who was present at Doheny's press conference, said Hoffman should drop out of the race.
"I will issue a call for him to step down right now," said Lee. "I think, to me, that would be the only ethical thing to do."
Conversely, Hoffman said he will continue his candidacy with a new resolve, noting Doheny out-spent him 12-to-1 and had the support of all 11 party chairmen, yet only won by "a few hundred votes."
"Understand, I do not continue this race out of spite or because of self-conceived virtues," said Hoffman. "I continue in this race because of the failings of my opponents to be truthful with the voters."
Hoffman won the endorsement of Conservative Party leaders early in the race and is guaranteed that line on the ballot. Doheny will appear on both the Republican and Independence Party lines.
Doheny said his win in the primary "sends a clear message," and by uniting people in each of the three parties, he "will be the clear and chosen winner on Nov. 2."
Echoing Doheny, Lee said right-leaning voters will be wise enough to unite behind one candidate in order to reduce government spending and Hoffman's run in the general election isn't likely to have the same splitting effect it did in 2009.
"I don't think that's going to happen," said Lee. "I think the Conservative voters are going to say, 'Yeah, if we stay with Mr. Hoffman, we're just going to be right where we are right now ... and we don't want that.'"
Doheny conceded a lack of votes in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties, and suggested the Upstate New York TEA Party's endorsement of Hoffman may have played a role in that. Still, he expressed intent to concentrate his efforts more in this part of the district.
"We'll be back here as much as humanly possible between now and Nov. 2 to make sure the public has an opportunity to see me and to hear our message and to understand I am the one candidate who can change the direction in the 23rd District."
Doheny said he would welcome a UNYTEA endorsement should the group choose to change its stance. UNYTEA chairman Mark Barie has indicated a desire for that to happen following Doheny's victory in the primary.
Meanwhile, Owens is preparing for what he expects to be yet another three-way race.
"I have fought hard for tax breaks for rural businesses that create jobs here at home, support strengthening Social Security for current and future generations, and want to move our economy forward," said Owens in a released statement. "Both of my opponents take a different approach that doesn't serve as a plan to move our communities forward. They both support tax breaks for companies that outsource American jobs overseas, support privatizing Social Security which will put the benefits guaranteed to our seniors at risk, and want a return to the failed economic policies of the past that got us into this mess in the first place."