A three-way special election in upstate New York is fast becoming ground zero for the intra-Republican war over the party's future. Dede Scozzafava, the official Republican nominee, has come under fire from movement conservatives and so-called "tea bag protesters" for her moderate stances. (Liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas endorsed as "actually the most liberal candidate in the race.") They have rallied behind third-party nominee Doug Hoffman of the Conservative Party, who is rapidly gaining on Scozzafava in polls. The district, in Republican hands since 1871, is unlikely to go Democratic. But which conservative comes out on top in this increasingly national fight could be am internal referendum on the GOP's future.

Rumors that Scozzafava could switch parties are circulating and may well turn out to be false -- her office has denied twice -- but conservatives rejoicing over her possible defection are telling. Ideological purity, it seems, could be more important to movement conservatives than the number of seats in Congress. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee and such party leaders as Newt Gingrich have endorsed her with the apparent belief that a moderate Republican is better than no Republican. The two camps now have direct proxies in the New York race, with tea party conservatives supporting the Conservative Party nominee and Congressional Republicans supporting Scozzafava. As grassroots conservatives and the Republican establishment battle it out, who wins in New York may well determine who wins in the GOP's broader search for an identity.

  • 'Tea-Party Activists Complicate Republican Comeback Strategy'  So reports the Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid. "The rise of conservative 'tea party' activists around the country has created a dilemma for Republicans. They are breathing life into the party's quest to regain power. But they're also waging war on some candidates hand-picked by GOP leaders as the most likely to win," Bendavid writes of the New York race.
  • GOP In Way of Real Conservatives  William Kristol says of the Wall Street Journal headline, "The truth is the opposite: The GOP establishment complicates the Republican and conservative comeback strategy." He pushes Republicans to give up on Scozzafava. "It's probably too late for the national and state Republicans to reverse their foolish initial blessing of Scozzafava—but surely they could at least stop attacking Hoffman, spend what money they’re going to spend attacking Owens, give up on pressuring high profile Republicans not to go in to help Hoffman, and therefore give Hoffman a decent chance to win."
  • Republicans Are 'The Stupid Party'  Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin called Scozzafava "an abomination" and "extremist fringe," labeled Republicans "The Stupid Party," and urged her readers to "Fight the GOP Beltway establishment." Malkin wrote, "Way to go, Beltway GOP establishment. Grass-roots fiscal conservatives are fired up over ACORN, the SEIU, tax-and-spend radicals. Grass-roots social conservatives are battling radical abortion and gay marriage policies. You have been asking movement conservatives to give you money to fight the ACORN-friendly, union-pandering, tax-and-spend, radical Democrats. Then you use their money to try and elect Dede Scozzafava, an ACORN-friendly, union-pandering, tax-and-spend radical Republican." Michelle Malkin tweeted, "Maybe it's time for a tea party at the offices of NRCC and Newt Gingrich."
  • NY23 Is Conservatives' 'Hill to Die On'  Conservative Redstate blogger Erick Erickson calls the New York race "a Hill to Die On" for fellow teabag conservatives, who he says believe "the GOP is just as bad as the Democrats." He compares Scozzafava and her GOP backers to Judas Goats. "The Judas Goat is a trained animal that is trained to lead other animals to pens or slaughter while sparing itself. I do not go forth lightly to discipline, condemn, cajole, or badger people on our side who have decided to compromise an issue for some higher goal. [...] many of the un-elected or previously elected leaders are more dangerous and more likely to be Judas Goats than the elected," he writes. "If we do not hold these people accountable in moments like this, why ever hold anyone accountable? And how ever can we win?"
  • Backlash Against Newt Gingrich  Newt isn't the only Republican to endorse Scozzafava, but he is the highest profile. Erick Erickson slams, "Gingrich no longer wants to nor can he be seen as a conservative," declaring, "Today Newt Gingrich Takes Himself Out of the 2012 Running." Michelle Malkin urges, "If you have given to the NRCC, RNC, or Newt Gingrich under the impression that they are using the money to support conservatism, you might want to ask for your money back."
  • Why Did Gingrich Endorse, Anyway?  David Weigel, no conservative, explains that Gingrich could fear a loss more than a too-moderate Republican. "If Republicans hold the 23rd district they won’t actually gain anything, but Gingrich realizes that a Democratic gain, even if it came narrowly as a GOP and Conservative Party candidate split the majority vote, would cut hard against the positive GOP narrative of the past few months."