Yesterday a special election was held in New York’s 26th Congressional District to fill the opening created by the resignation of Republican Christopher Lee. In 2010 Lee won by a margin of 48%. In 2008 when Barack Obama won New York State, John McCain won New York 26. In 2010 when Republican/Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino lost the Governor’s race to Democrat Andrew Cuomo by about a 2 to 1 ratio he won New York 26. Entering yesterday, since 1857 only three times has New York 26 been represented by a Democrat. The Republicans have an approximate registration advantage of 30,000. This is a tailor made Republican district.
In 2009 Democrat Bill Owens won a special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District over Tea Party candidate Doug Hoffman and a Republican candidate who technically dropped out at the eleventh hour due to lack of organization support and endorsed Owens. This election hinged to a great degree on the presence of a Tea Party candidate. Interestingly, Owens won reelection in 2010, not a great year for Democrats.
Yesterday’s contest in New York 26 was actually a four way race. The prohibitive early favorite was Republican Jane Corwin; Kathy Hochul was the Democratic standard bearer; Jack Davis ran as the Tea Party candidate; and Ian Murphy was the Green Party candidate. Davis was an unusual Tea Party candidate in that he is primarily just a free trader advocate, which is not part of the usual Tea Party “platform”. Murphy was trying to capitalize on his fifteen minutes of fame for the prank phone call to Scott Walker. Republicans will try to attribute the results to Davis’ presence. Extensive polling was done in this race and as Davis’ supported waned in the final weeks it corresponded with the assent of Hochul’s. If the Tea Party candidate was splitting the Republican vote the Davis defectors would have been flocking to Corwin. Generally I agree with the conventional wisdom that Tea Party support primarily comes at the expense of the Republican, in this case the polling simply does not bear that out.
The largest single factor this election seemed to hinge on was the Medicare provision of the Ryan Plan. The majority of this district’s voters are over 45. They are of an age where they are concerned about their retirement health care. They did not fall for the Republican rhetoric of saving Medicare. They know the Ryan Plan will destroy Medicare as we know it. Seniors are not fooled by the 55 and older exemption – they know they will be next – and that it will be too late then.
The race turned when Corwin stated she would have voted for the Ryan Plan. She maintained that position until the Sunday, when faced with polls that showed her down by 6%, she modified her stance at a Rochester event. Interestingly at that same event she was accompanied by a representative of the shadowy 60plus.org. That representative tried to paint the Democrats as the people attacking Medicare. He cited a 1964 campaign commercial that Lyndon Johnson ran showing a Social Security card being torn up as proof that the Democrats have been out to destroy Social Security for decades. That commercial did exist – the only problem with the story was that the card being torn up was in reference to the seven anti Social Security votes Johnson’s conservative Republican opponent Barry Goldwater had cast in the Senate. If anyone took the time to look at the group’s website they found it advocates the privatization of Social Security.
This was a race that drew national attention. It is estimated that the Republicans spent $3.5 million in what should have been a cakewalk win for them. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, and admitted war criminal and Republican/Tea Party Representative Alan West, (FL-22), made robocalls for Corwin. Speaker John Boehner made a personal appearance to campaign with Corwin. The Republicans even pulled a controversial amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act to help Corwin – however that move was perceived as an attempt to politicize the crash of Flight 3407 and backfired. The Democrats were unable to give Hochul anything approaching the same financial support, although President Clinton did a robocall.
As I write this Hochul has already been declared the winner. Corwin and Davis have already made their concession speeches. With over 96% of the precincts reporting it is Hochul 47%, Corwin 43%, Davis 9% and Murphy 1%. This race is not really important – this district will probably fall victim to redistricting for 2012 and Hochul will be part of the minority in 112th Congress. The lesson is vitally important! 235 House Republicans voted for the Ryan Plan, make them defend that vote in 2012. Bring it up in every speech, ad and debate. If you are fortunate to also have a Tea Party candidate in the race let that work to your advantage. Democratic candidates and operatives need to pound this one point home in 2012 – they voted to dismantle Medicare.
NOTE: Thanks to Jerry Zremski of my former hometown newspaper, The Buffalo News, for his outstanding reporting on this race.
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