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.