GOP CANDIDATE ENDORSES DEMOCRATIC RIVAL IN NY… In New York’s 23rd, before Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava dropped out yesterday, recent polling showed Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman effectively tied. With Scozzafava out, who gained the backing of her supporters would likely win Tuesday’s election.

Given then Republican history of the district, it seems safe to assume Hoffman will benefit greatly. On the other hand, this afternoon, Scozzafava — the Republican nominee who enjoyed the backing of the RNC and the NRCC — encouraged voters in the district to vote for the Democrat.

Scozzafava said in a statement released about an hour ago.

“You know me, and throughout my career, I have been always been an independent voice for the people I represent. I have stood for our honest principles, and a truthful discussion of the issues, even when it cost me personally and politically. Since beginning my campaign, I have told you that this election is not about me; it’s about the people of this District.

“It is in this spirit that I am writing to let you know I am supporting Bill Owens for Congress and urge you to do the same.

“It’s not in the cards for me to be your representative, but I strongly believe Bill is the only candidate who can build upon John McHugh’s lasting legacy in the U.S. Congress. John and I worked together on the expansion of Fort Drum and I know how important that base is to the economy of this region. I am confident that Bill will be able to provide the leadership and continuity of support to Drum Country just as John did during his tenure in Congress.

“In Bill Owens, I see a sense of duty and integrity that will guide him beyond political partisanship. He will be an independent voice devoted to doing what is right for New York. Bill understands this district and its people, and when he represents us in Congress he will put our interests first.

“Please join me in voting for Bill Owens on Tuesday. To address the tough challenges ahead, we must rise above partisanship and politics and work together. There’s too much at stake in this election to do otherwise.”

This is extremely unusual. It’s not every day — it’s not any day — that a Republican congressional candidate endorses the Democratic congressional candidate in the same district three days before the election.

But for Scozzafava, Hoffman — the right-wing accountant who doesn’t live in the district and is unfamiliar with local issues — is just that awful for her community. In some ways, if the special election in New York’s 23rd is a skirmish in the larger battle for control of the Republican Party, Scozzafava would prefer to see the moderate Democrat win, rather than let far-right radicals score a key victory.

So, does this mean Owens has a better shot on Tuesday? Maybe a little, but the odds are still against him. Chris Cillizza explained, “Polling conducted by the Siena Research Institute — and released on Saturday — showed that more than 60 percent of Scozzafava backers were self-identified Republicans, meaning that the majority of them are likely to back Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.”

In the bigger picture, though, if the Tea Party’s purge leads moderate Republicans to start siding with Democrats in greater numbers, the GOP will shrink further, and continue to move in the wrong direction.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.