A race to fill a House seat in a ruby red New York district turns on Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan. And turns is the operative word.
With 75% of precincts reporting, Democrat Kathy Hochul was leading Republican Jane Corwin 48% to 42%, with the tea party candidate Jack Davis getting 8%, and news outlets were calling the race for the Democrat.
A key takeaway from the Cilllizza piece:
While national Republicans will do everything they can to downplay the role Medicare played in the race, it’s hard to imagine that, without the Ryan budget to bash, Hochul would have gained such traction. One source close to the Hochul campaign said that once she began attacking Corwin on Medicare, the Republican’s numbers went steadily downward while the Democrat’s numbers soared. One special election almost 18 months before the next general election does not a trend make, but it’s hard to imagine that House GOPers who voted for the Ryan budget didn’t wake up a little more nervous today than they did yesterday.
Polls heading into the race suggested Medicare — and Corwin’s initial statement — later reversed — that she would have voted for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to replace it with vouchers for people over age 55 — was the key issue on voters’ minds.
New York’s 26th District, near Buffalo, is considered one of the most conservative in New York — if not the most conservative. It’s more than two-thirds rural, 93.3% white, and chose John McCain over Barack Obama in the 2008 election 52% – 46.5%.
Former Congressman Chris Lee, who abruptly quit after pictures he took of himself with his shirt off were discovered on Craigslist, won with more than 73 percent of the vote.
And NY 26 went to Republican Carl Paladino in the recent gubernatorial election — giving the erratic Republican 58 percent of its votes.
Now, the district will be represented by a Democrat, which is sure to lead to some soul searching among Washington Republicans, who walked the plank to support the Ryan plan in the House, and who now are tying their presidential candidates to the plan.
Outside groups including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads poured money into the race to try and help Corwin, who reportedly outspent Hochul by more than 3 to 1. In the end, it didn’t help.
Meanwhile, an important takeaway from Public Policy Polling:
There’s going to be a lot of debate about whether Kathy Hochul’s victory tonight means anything moving forward or not. I think it does. I think it is the first step toward the very real possibility that Democrats take the House back next year. Our national polling has been suggested that for almost three months now and this is the first tangible on the ground evidence backing that up.
Congressional Republicans are extremely unpopular and voters think they’re doing an even worse job than the Democrats they put out of office six months ago. That was true in NY-26 and that’s true nationally. Last month we found nationally that 43% of voters thought House Republicans were doing a worse job than the Democrats did while in the majority to only 36% who felt they were an improvement. Even in NY-26, which voted 13 points more Republican than the country as a whole in 2008, 38% of voters think the Republicans are doing a worse job than the Democrats to only 34% who think they’re an improvement. You can talk about Jack Davis all you want but the reality is that if voters thought House Republicans were bringing the improvement they hoped for when they went to vote last November Jane Corwin would have won tonight
Another potential lesson learned from tonight- House Democratic candidates may be able to run against John Boehner next year in the same vein that House Republicans ran against Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi last year. Boehner’s approval rating nationally is a 25/42 spread and even in this traditionally Republican district it’s a 28/45 spread. Barack Obama’s not popular in this district either, don’t get me wrong- his approval is a 42/51 breakdown. But it’s remarkable that his net approval is 8 points better than Boehner’s in a district that John McCain won by 6 points in 2008. Again you can talk about Jack Davis all day but if John Boehner was more popular than Barack Obama in this district, as you would certainly have expected the case to be, then Jane Corwin would have won tonight.
So you may say all that’s fine but it’s just one district. But NY-26′s results are not occurring in a vacuum. Democrats had a 7 point lead at 47-40 on our last look at the national generic Congressional ballot. And Democrats have led the generic Congressional ballot on 7 consecutive national polls we’ve asked about it on going back to mid-February. Voters shifted sharply back toward the Democrats after just a couple months of Republican control of the House.
UPDATE: House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is out with this statement tonight to her email list:
It is my great pleasure to report that tonight, thanks to you, Democrat Kathy Hochul has won a triumphant grassroots victory in the special election in NY-26.
Victories like this are what happen when we fight together to protect our core Democratic values.
Congresswoman-elect Hochul’s victory in a staunchly-Republican district has shocked the political world and sent an unmistakable sign that the American people will not stand for the Republicans’ reckless and extreme agenda to end Medicare.
This is our third straight special election victory in New York — and it is truly one for the ages. All of the Republicans’ right-wing outside groups with their secret money and dishonest attacks were no match for the combined strength of grassroots Democrats.
Thank you again for fighting to protect and defend Medicare and bringing us one step closer to regaining our Democratic House Majority.
And DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) tweeted her excitement:
Congrats to Congresswoman-Elect Kathy Hochul (D-NY26)! U ran a great race! TY 2 volunteers! Voters stand up 4 Medicare! @TheDemocrats @dccc
Meanwhile, the New York House race already starts reverberating in Florida, where the state Democratic Party has been pounding Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty for refusing to say where he stands on the Ryan plan, and the St. Pete Times reports:
The race turned on the Republican plan to convert Medicare into a voucher program — “to end it as we know it,” as Democrats have hammered away for weeks. It worked. “The privatization of Medicare scares me,” Pat Gillick, a Republican who voted for Democrat Kathy Hochul, told the New York Times.
It’s sure to cause fright in GOP circles everywhere. In Florida, all 19 Republicans voted for the budget plan that included the overhaul.
Republicans and some analysts, however, caution reading too much into a singular race.
“The debate over whether Medicare mattered more than a third-party candidate who split the Republican vote is mostly a partisan Rorschach Test,” said Steven Law, CEO of the conservative group American Crossroads. “What is clear is that this election is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that 2012 will be just like 2010. It’s going to be a tougher environment, Democrats will be more competitive, and we need to play at the top of our game to win big next year.”
The New York defeat is also a loss for Sen. Marco Rubio, who endorsed Republican Jane Corwin and made a robo call. West also pitched in. [Links added]
Rubio may soon have to put his vote on the line. Already, some Republicans up for re-election in 2012, including Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown — who won a special election of his own in 2010 — have backed away from the Ryan plan.