The upcoming special election in the New York Twenty-third Congressional brings to mind an earlier three way election in the Empire State.
The 2009 special election features Democrat Bill Owens, Republican Dierdre Scozzafava and Conservative Doug Hoffman. Identifying the players in New York politics is like finding the ends in a bowl of spaghetti, but a few ground rules are discernable. Democrats and Republicans nominate their own candidates. The next level of parties, the Liberals and Conservatives, then consider the major party candidates and, if one is to their liking, offer their party’s nomination to one of the major party candidates. Frequently, this results in the Democratic candidate also running on the Liberal Party line and the Republican also running on the Conservative Party line. If either the Liberals or Conservatives find neither major party candidate to be satisfactory, they can nominate their own candidate. Endorsements from minor parties can confuse things further.

In this election, the Working Families’ Party has given its nomination to Owens while the Independence Party has endorsed Scozzafava. The Liberals seem to be sitting this one out. The Conservative Party has chosen its own candidate, Doug Hoffman. This posed a problem for Republicans who had to choose between their official candidate, who is regarded by many as too liberal for their tastes, and the Conservative, who challenges party unity but whose positions are generally more to their liking. Scozzfava garnered endorsements from the Log Cabin Republicans, the National Rifle Association, local Republican leaders as well as some national figures including House Republican leader John Boehner, Sen. Susan Collins and former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Hoffman drew endorsements from prominent Republicans such as Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former N.Y. Gov. George Pataki, former Senators Fred Thompson and Rick Santourm, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and many others. As of this writing, Diedre Scozzafava has withdrawn from the race and many of her supporters are transferring to Hoffman.

So what past election does this bring to mind? Think back to 1970. Rep. Charles Goodell had been appointed by Gov. Rockefeller to replace the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Although a mainstream Republican in the house, Goodell sought to enhance his statewide appeal by adopting liberal domestic policies and criticizing the conduct of the Vietnam War. These positions earned Goodell the nomination of the Liberal Party in addition to that of the Republican Party, but also ensured the opposition of many within the Republican Party and within the Nixon Administration. The Conservative challenge came from James L. Buckley who, like Hoffman 39 years later, gained endorsements from many prominent Republicans, most notably Vice-President Spiro Agnew. The field was rounded out by Democratic Rep. Richard Ottinger. During the campaign the Administration both aided Buckley and turned its guns on Goodell. The high point of the attack occurred when Vice-President Agnew called Goodell “The Christine Jorgenson of the Republican Party.” At that time Christine Jorgenson was the only well known person to have undergone a sex change operation.

In 1970 the administration efforts were successful as Buckley managed a narrow victory over Ottinger while Goodell lagged far behind. Similarly, the Conservative challenge to Scozzafava has been successful in driving her out of the race. In a few days we will know if, as in 1970, with support from conservative Republicans, the Conservative Party will be successful in electing one of its own in another three way New York race.