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With Eye On Local Issues, Democrat Wins N.Y. Race

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Democrats did triumph in New York, where one upstate congressional district became a national story. The area will get its first democratic representative since the 1800s. The victor is a political newcomer, Bill Owens. He profited from a bitter national feud among Republicans.

But as North Country Public radio's Brian Mann reports, he also won by sticking relentlessly to local bread and butter issues.

BRIAN MANN: Last weekend conservative Doug Hoffman scored what looked like an election winning coup when moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava was forced out of the race. Hoffman shouldered her aside with the help of national conservative leaders like Fred Thompson.

Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Former Senator; Republican, Tennessee): America's in trouble. So when your grandchildren ask you why you didn't do something, be able to tell them that you voted for Doug Hoffman.

MANN: Hoffman focused on his opposition to President Obama's economic policies, that and his pro-life anti-gay marriage views carried him overnight to national prominence. Here's Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter on FOX News.

Mr. SEAN HANNITY (Host, FOX News): I endorsed Doug Hoffman on my radio show. I had him on. I endorsed him and�

Ms. ANN COULTER (Host, FOX News): Like I say�

Mr. HANNITY: I think if he wins that race, I think we can also say governor Palin probably put him over the top.

Ms. COULTER: Right.

MANN: But on the ground in the district, Hoffman began making mistakes. When he went to an editorial board interview with the area's biggest newspaper, he seemed out of touch with local issues. The Watertown Daily Times, where Jude Seymour is a reporter, blasted Hoffman after he was unable to answer basic questions about the region's economy.

Mr. JUDE SEYMOUR (Reporter, Watertown Daily Times): And let's keep in mind here, these questions, we didn't blindside him. These questions were in our paper that morning.

MANN: Unemployment in many parts of this rural district tops 11 percent. And after last night's win, Democrat Bill Owens said it was those kitchen table concerns, not ideology that made the difference.

Representative BILL OWENS (Democrat, New York): Again, it was focused on job creation, the farm crisis, health care, those are things that people are incredibly focused on.

MANN: It helped that Owens won the endorsement of the Republican Dede Scozzafava, who was so angry at conservatives that she campaigned for the Democrat. Owens also unleashed a massive get-out-to-vote effort, staffed in part by hundreds of local union members. June O'Neil is a democratic operative who lives in the district.

Ms. JUNE O'NEIL (Democratic Operative): It's the licking and sticking and stuffing and ringing and knocking and calling and having people hang up on you and say, if you call me one more time, I'm not going to go vote for anybody. It's all part of the game.

MANN: Hoffman's tea party activists were passionate, but they lacked that kind of grassroots network. At a Hoffman rally last night in Saranac Lake, supporter Jim Kelly(ph) still claimed a kind of victory, not for beating the Democrats, but for humbling the GOP.

Mr. JIM KELLY: The New York State Republican Party was lost on their values and ideas by picking someone as liberal to the left of the Democrat, Dede Scozzafava. So the shame tonight falls on�

MANN: But in a tough economy, most voters here seemed more interested in their pocketbooks than party rivalries.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Saranac Lake, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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