Democrat Wins Special Election In NY-26

It's just one Congressional District out of 435, but that won't stop everyone from trying to turn the results in NY-26 into a national referendum on Medicare reform.

Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican Jane Corwin in a special election in western New York’s 26th Congressional District and, although I’m not sure there’s much merit to it, it’s already clear what lesson the punditocracy will draw from the GOP defeat:

Republicans lost a House seat in a Western New York special election on Tuesday, dealing what could be a significant blow to the party’s efforts to reform Medicare.

Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul (D) upset Republican state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (R) in the special election in the conservative-leaning 26th district after tying Corwin to the controversial GOP budget plan that included a provision to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Senate Republicans are still wavering about what to do with the proposal, and Corwin’s loss on Tuesday may provide a chilling effect for Republicans who were already hesitant to embrace the entitlement reform, which polls show is unpopular with the general public.

The Medicare plan, spearheaded by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has already been the subject of plenty of debate as Republicans in Washington seek deep cuts and debt-reduction measures. And many Republicans, including presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, have declined to embrace the proposal.

In New York, the Democrats ran ads early and often on the issue, seeking to overcome a significant registration disadvantage in the Buffalo-area district, which Democrats haven’t held since the 1960s.

In the end, it appeared to have worked, with Hochul winning 48 percent of the vote and Corwin winning 42 percent of the vote with 75 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press called the race in Hochul’s favor just more than an hour after polls closed.

For many of the reasons I stated this morning, I’m not sure that it’s all that valid to draw national implications from an election like this. Nonetheless, it will be done and I can’t say that the “voters reject Ryan Plan” meme is all that incorrect given it became the centerpiece of Hochul’s campaign. One implication of this defeat for the GOP may be that we see more Republicans distancing themselves from the Ryan Plan, especially in the Senate.

Update: It’s worth noting that, according to the latest results, about 100,000 votes were cast today in the 26th District. In November 2010, when Chris Lee was re-elected, there were over 200,000 votes cast. Today’s turnout represented, at best about 17% of registered voters.

Update #2: Philip A. Klein tells Republicans not to panic:

In 2009 and 2010, Republicans had a string off losses in special elections that lead the media to question weather it bode poorly for their chances of retaking the House majority. For instance, “Dismal special election record could hamper Republicans’ 2010 comeback” read a Hill headline in October 2009. After a Republicans lost a May 2010 special election to replace deceased Jack Murtha, the New York Times write a story headlined, “Democrats See Hope for Fall in Victory in House Race.”

Now, obviously, Medicare played a role in the New York special election, and there’s no need for conservatives to dismiss the fact that it’s a volatile issue. Perhaps Republicans can learn something from messaging failures in this election. But at the end of the day this is just one data point in a single Congressional district out of 435. So it would be silly for Republicans to panic suddenly flee from the Ryan plan.

And it would be silly for Democrats to see this as the beginning of a new wave in their favor. There are a number of factors at play here. Medicare was most certainly one of them and, as Klein notes, the GOP will need to look at the manner in which Corwin responded to that part of the debate and learn from it. Additionally, though, there were plenty of reports that Corwin’s campaign wasn’t run very well — the fact that she lost in a low turnout election in a district that the Cook Report had most recently listed as R+6 is a pretty good indication of that — and the low turnout itself should caution anyone to be cautious about drawing conclusions from it. It’s also worth noting that Republicans lost a special election in another upstate New York Congressional District in 2009. A year later, they took control of the House of Representatives.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, Health Care, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Andyman says:

    I recall that Scott Brown’s election hobbled the Obamacare push for a few weeks. I tend to think it isn’t fair to draw national implications from a local race but it does seem to be the way of things.

  2. Andyman says:

    I suppose it comes down to competition for page views in the media. “American Voters Reject Ryancare” just has more oomph than “Suburban Buffalo Selects Democrat for Variety of Idiosyncratic Reasons”.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    People love their omens.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    @ Reynolds…
    But Omen 2 & Omen 3 never lived up to the original.

  5. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    One implication of this defeat for the GOP may be that we see more Republicans distancing themselves from the Ryan Plan, especially in the Senate.

    And another implication is that we may see more phony Tea Party candidates in future elections too.

  6. Considering that Davis’s support in the polls collapsed in the last week and that his supporters were breaking 5-1 for the Democrat, I don’t think it’s necessarily true that he was the reason for the loss.

    Also, “phony Tea Party” or not, I would say that after reading through some of Jack Davis’s campaign material that he was more of a Ross Perot/Pat Buchanan populist than a liberal masquerading as a member of the Tea Party

  7. Hey Norm says:

    She won by…using your numbers…6 points in an ironclad Republican district. Is it about Ryans Tea Party Manifesto? I would offer the theory that it is about the Tea Party f’ing up the So-Called Republicans. The Tea Bag voters seem to have gone to the Democrat, and therein lies the lesson. The So-called Republican establishment has no idea what to do with the folks with tea bags dangling from their hats and can’t begin to control them. The desperate have embraced the crazy and now they are f’ed.
    I just hope they can keep the government out of my Social Security.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Norm:

    It’s hard to top a sheet of glass through the neck.

  9. Hey Norm says:

    Dude I love that scene.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    I’m actually waiting for the republican election official to show up with a bag of several thousand votes.

  11. ponce says:

    And it would be silly for Democrats to see this as the beginning of a new wave in their favor.

    Why not?

    They closed a ten point gap and have taken the lead in the generic Congressional ballot in just six months.

    The great unreported political story is how badly the House Republicans have screwed the pooch since they took control.

  12. anjin-san says:

    The great unreported political story is how badly the House Republicans have screwed the pooch since they took control.

    Quite. There is a reason most Democrats were not alarmed when the GOP took the house. Republicans are effective back benchers, but they simply can’t govern at the national level, and no amount of spin can disguise that fact. Hubris and overreach started to drag on them less than a week after winning the election. The GOP Congress is an outright gift to Obama’s re-election effort.

  13. Herb says:

    the low turnout itself should caution anyone to be cautious about drawing conclusions from it.

    I’ll throw caution to the wind and say that it means the Republican voters in that district aren’t that motivated to defend the Republican agenda and that the Democratic voters aren’t too worried the Republicans will actually be able to carry it out.

  14. Pete says:

    Republicans are effective back benchers, but they simply can’t govern at the national level, and no amount of spin can disguise that fact. Hubris and overreach started to drag on them less than a week after winning the election.

    Anjin, I agree with you that Republicans aren’t as effective on the national level. To what do you attribute that?

  15. sam says:

    “Anjin, I agree with you that Republicans aren’t as effective on the national level. To what do you attribute that?”

    How about, they hate government and have no real interest in governing?

  16. Pug says:

    It’s also worth noting that Republicans lost a special election in another upstate New York Congressional District in 2009. A year later, they took control of the House of Representatives.

    True enough, Doug, but taking control of the House may be a big part of their problem. The Ryan plan clearly is not going to fly with the public and they have almost all made a big-time comittment to it.

    Next comes the debt ceiling fiasco. I call it that because I believe that’s what it will be. If the big money boys can’t get their Republicans under control and do the sensible thing, this could be a real catastrophe.

  17. sam says:

    Additionally, though, there were plenty of reports that Corwin’s campaign wasn’t run very well — the fact that she lost in a low turnout election in a district that the Cook Report had most recently listed as R+6 is a pretty good indication of that…

    Nice try.

  18. Pug says:

    It’s worth noting that, according to the latest results, about 100,000 votes were cast today in the 26th District. In November 2010, when Chris Lee was re-elected, there were over 200,000 votes cast.

    Psst…hey, Doug. This was a special election. Nothing, absolutely nothing else was on the ballot.

  19. Nightrider says:

    As usual, all the talk is about what this means for the political parties. How about what does this mean for the country, if it scares the politicians out of reforming the Titanic before it hits the iceberg ahead? Does it really make sense for a country $14 trillion in debt with important underfunded infrastructure, education and other investment needs to waste six figures on great-aunt Ida’s hopeless attempts to add three months to her 89-year old life, or a trillion dollars to democratize a patch of desert halfway around the world? Sigh.

  20. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    There are a number of factors at play here. Medicare was most certainly one of them

    I heard an interesting analysis on the radio this morning by Monica Crowley regarding this election. It is her contention that this election had nothing to do with Medicare but rather the crappy quality of the Republican candidate. She laid the responsibility squarely at the feet of the Republican Party for not fielding a better, non-establishment candidate. Having not followed this election at all, I can’t comment on whether she is correct or not but it was an interesting perspective from someone who does follow these elections very closely.

  21. Fog says:

    “Does it really make sense for a country $14 trillion in debt with important underfunded infrastructure, education and other investment needs to waste six figures on my hopeless attempts to add three months to my life, or a trillion dollars to democratize a patch of desert halfway around the world? Sigh.”

    There. Fixed that for you.

  22. anjin-san says:

    It is her contention that this election had nothing to do with Medicare but rather the crappy quality of the Republican candidate.

    Well, that is the spin, and spin is Crowley’s business. Not sure how interesting it is – it’s simply the party line in light of a humiliating defeat. What else are they going to say?

  23. JD says:

    Isn’t NY about to lose two congressional districts? Will this one be there in 2012?

  24. Wayne says:

    Re “Considering that Davis’s support in the polls collapsed in the last week and that his supporters were breaking 5-1 for the Democrat,” and “The Tea Bag voters seem to have gone to the Democrat”

    Does that mean The Tea Party principles are appeasing to many Democrats?

    Also doesn’t that mean those who think the Tea Party is made up of only Republicans are wrong?

    It is not wise to draw too much from a low turnout special election.

  25. Wayne says:

    One more thing, didn’t the Republican candidate in NY-26 run away from the Ryan plan?

  26. anjin-san says:

    It is not wise to draw too much from a low turnout special election.

    No? Can we draw something from Rick Scott’s cratering approval in FL?

    Spin it any way you want. The GOP is about ideology, not governing. If the expression “Pyrrhic victory” did not already exist, we would have to invent it to describe GOP gains in 2010.

  27. wr says:

    “One more thing, didn’t the Republican candidate in NY-26 run away from the Ryan plan?”

    Nope. She voted for it, bragged about the vote loud and proud. Then when the polls started going south, she pulled the standard “well, it’s just a starting point” — as if she hadn’t voted to enact it into law — and started crying that the meanie Democrats wanted to cut Medicare.

  28. sam says:

    “One more thing, didn’t the Republican candidate in NY-26 run away from the Ryan plan?”

    Only in the last 2 days — and that didn’t count.

  29. mattb says:

    On the the issue of low-turnout — it can be read in a different way that “no-one cared.” Not voting is often a vote — in other words, a response from a republican who can’t bring themselves to vote for the party candidate and can’t bring themselves to vote for the democrat. Ditto a libertarian like Doug.

    That people stayed home in a district that is traditionally republican is therefore a story.

    To get a bead on the feelings of some in the district, see this essay from one of the local conservative talkers:
    http://www.lonsberry.com/readcomments.cfm?story=3140