Republicans are going to have plenty of questions about their plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program tomorrow morning after Democrats romped to an improbable victory in a special election focused almost entirely on the issue.
Democrat Kathy Hochul lead 48-43 with over 83% of the votes counted and her victory looks to be a strong one — the Associated Press called the race within an hour of the polls closing. Corwin underperformed in key GOP counties while Hochul’s margins in Democratic areas were in line with the party’s high water mark in the district from 2006, a wave year that swept the Republicans out of the majority in the House and Senate. The district is normally a safe seat for Republicans and few considered it vulnerable when Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) resigned over topless photos he posted in a Craigslist personal.
Hochul’s message focused relentlessly on the Paul Ryan budget, which she highlighted in ads, public statements, and debates at every opportunity. Her attacks on its cuts to Medicare benefits and its tax cuts for the wealthy proved impossible for Corwin to overcome, who tried her best to defend the GOP budget cuts before eventually giving in and falsely accusing Hochul of seeking similar cuts while muddying her own position on the plan.
National Democrats are giddy over the results, crowing that they’ll use the same formula in swing districts across the country in 2012.
“We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare,” DCCC chair Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said in a statement. “Even in one of the most Republican districts, seniors and independent voters rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare.”
Republicans sought to spin the race beforehand as an exceptional situation due to the appearance of Tea Party independent Jack Davis, who was ironically the Democratic candidate in 2006. NRCC chair Pete Sessions (R-TX) repeated the claim on Tuesday night in a statement to reporters and added that past special elections had failed to prove predictive of the general election results.
“Republican Jane Corwin ran a hard-fought campaign against two well-funded Democrats, including one masquerading under the Tea Party name,” Sessions said. Obviously, each side would rather win a special election than lose, but to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky. History shows one important fact: the results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes. If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010.”
But Hochul appears to have won solidly even while Davis’ support collapsed from his earlier polling numbers in the mid-twenties. With over 66% of the vote in, he took only 8% of the vote while Hochul’s numbers were strong compared to past Democratic performances. Corwin and Republican-allied groups significantly outspent Democrats in the race, making her victory that much tougher.