I was driving to the office today, punching buttons on the car radio, when I landed on KTRH in Houston, a Fox station. Dallas talk show host Mark Davis was sitting in for Rush Limbaugh, and a caller dialed in to complain that Newt Gingrich and other prominent Republicans are supporting assemblywoman Deirdre Scozzafava, who is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, in the upcoming special election to represent New York’s 23rd congressional district. The seat was vacated by Republican John McHugh, who resigned last spring after Obama nominated him to become Secretary of the Army, succeeding former Texas congressman Pete Geren. This is historically a Republican district. No Democrat has represented this area since 1871, and McHugh always topped 60%. Bush won the district in ’00 (49-47) and ’04 (51-47), but Obama won 52% here in 08. The district, entirely north of Albany, is very rural and spread out; it touches Lake Ontario on the northwest, Canada on the north, and Vermont on the east. What makes the race interesting is not just the possibility that the Democrat (Bill Owens) might win it. It is a split on the right: Scozzafava must contend with a strong third-party nominee, Doug Hoffman, who is carrying the banner of the Conservative party and has the enthusiastic support of the Club for Growth. Hoffman’s policy positions, as you can imagine, are opposite from Scozzafava’s. I listened in fascination as the caller argued that conservative voters should support Hoffman instead of Scozzafava. It was the same purifying instinct that you see from folks here like Michael Quinn Sullivan and Cathie Adams, the new Republican party chairman. Mark Davis was the voice of moderation. “If you have a 60% Republican, isn’t that better than a Democrat?” he asked the caller. “If this is an area that tends to be more moderate, shouldn’t Republicans support the person who is more likely to win?” [I wasn’t taking notes while I was driving; this is not a verbatim quote, but the “60% Republican” quote is.] I was impressed (and surprised) to hear a talk show host who was the voice of reason. Of course, the caller didn’t buy it. But it is no cinch that Scozzafava can win. She led three early polls in September, then Owens took the lead in early October. But the latest poll shows Hoffman shooting past the major party candidates. From the Club for Growth web site: A poll released today by the Club for Growth shows Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman surging into the lead in the special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district to replace John McHugh, the former congressman who recently became Secretary of the Army. The poll of 300 likely voters, conducted October 24-25, 2009, shows Conservative Doug Hoffman at 31.3%, Democrat Bill Owens at 27.0%, Republican Dede Scozzafava at 19.7%, and 22% undecided. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 5.66%. No information was provided about any of the candidates prior to the ballot question. As long as conservatives believe that moderates in their own party are the enemy, Republicans will continue to lose ground nationally (if they have any ground left to lose). And Texas is not immune. There is a very real danger that Rick Perry’s attacks on Kay Bailey Hutchison, if successful, will continue to drive the moderate R’s out of the party into the independent column, accelerating the possibility that a Democrat could win the general election. Oh, wait. The D’s would have to field a credible candidate. Never mind.