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Under pressure, GOP assemblywoman suspends campaign

Under fire from prominent members of her party who said she wasn't conservative enough, Republican Assemb. Dierdre "Dede" Scozzafava suspended her campaign in New York's 23rd Congressional District race Saturday.

Her party has held the district for more than a century. The abrupt withdrawal forced the Republican National Committee to quickly endorse Conservative Doug Hoffman, who has become a darling of right-wing radio talk shows nationally, but who lives just outside the district.

Scozzafava, trailing in polls, said she was unable to raise money and unlikely to win. She told supporters while her name would be on the ballot Tuesday, they could vote for anyone.

The announcement followed a Siena Research Institute poll that placed her third with 20 percent of the vote in the Republican district, while Hoffman and Democratic nominee Bill Owens were too close to call with 35 percent and 36 percent respectively.

Calling Scozzafava's move a "selfless act," RNC chairman Michael Steele said the GOP's change of course was immediate and would include money and get out the vote efforts.

The race - in an area that borders Canada, from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain - has pitted conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party.

It comes after veteran GOP Rep. John McHugh stepped down to be Army secretary. Scozzafava was tapped over Hoffman by local leaders to replace McHugh. But she was undone when high-profile Republicans backed Hoffman, saying Scozzafava, who supports abortion rights and gay marriage, had abandoned core party values.

Seeing Scozzafava faltering, former Gov. George Pataki, a moderate Republican, broke his silence Thursday night, endorsing Hoffman at a Conservative Party event in Manhattan.

Ed Cox, the recently installed state GOP chair, Saturday gave a lukewarm reception to Hoffman. While Cox called Hoffman "a Republican who has pledged to protect the taxpayer and support policies that will turn our economy around," he reserved half his statement to heap praise on Scozzafava.

Without Scozzafava, 49, the No. 2 Republican leader in the Assembly, the race is now between two political neophytes. Hoffman, 59, of Lake Placid, runs an accounting firm, and Owens, 60, is managing partner with a Plattsburgh law firm, where he has practiced for 30 years.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had backed Scozzafava as the pragmatic choice, Saturday called her decision to quit a testament to populist anger. "This is both a tribute to the power of the national conservative movement to define an issue and a commentary on the populist anger against politics-as-usual," he said, adding he also endorses Hoffman now.

The Democrats are now pulling out all stops for Owens, with planned robocalls by President Barack Obama and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and a campaign visit from Vice President Joe Biden tomorrow.

- With James T. Madore

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