Pawlenty Backs Conservative Doug Hoffman in N.Y. House Race

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has joined another potential 2012 Republican presidential aspirant, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in backing conservative-party candidate Doug Hoffman in the race for a Congressional seat in upstate New York.

The choice by Pawlenty and Palin to weigh in on next week's special election in New York's 23rd congressional district – and their choice of Hoffman over moderate Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava – has driven chatter about the future of the GOP and to what degree it will or will not seek to be a "big tent" party that welcomes more moderate members.

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Pawlenty told the conservative blog RedState in an emailed statement that "we cannot send more politicians to Washington who wear the Republican jersey on the campaign trail, but then vote like Democrats in Congress on issues like card check and taxes."

"After reviewing the candidates' positions, I'm endorsing Doug Hoffman in New York's special election," he continued. "Doug understands the federal government needs to quit spending so much, will vote against tax increases, and protect key values like the right to vote in private in union elections." (Last Thursday, for what it's worth, Pawlenty told CNN he hadn't been following the race at all.)

RedState points to what it calls "real conservatives" who back Hoffman, among them Fred Thompson, the Club for Growth, Dick Armey, Rick Santorum and Steve Forbes.

Not on that list is Newt Gingrich, who is backing Scozzafava. "My number one interest is to build a Republican majority," he said. "If your interest is taking power back from the Left, and your interest is winning the necessary elections, then there are times when you have to put together a coalition that has disagreement within it. We have to decide which business we are in. If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed then I probably made the wrong decision."

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Though the outcome of the race is obviously tied in large degree to local concerns and values, the national media have been quick to cast it as having nationwide implications. Politico calls it "the first electoral test of the nascent conservative movement's political muscle."

The most recent non-partisan poll on the race is an Oct. 15th Siena survey (PDF) that finds Democrat Bill Owens benefiting from the split among conservatives. Siena has Owens leading Scozzafava by four percentage points and topping Hoffman by ten points.