Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin and Tea Party candidate Jack Davis in a special election for New York's 26th Congressional district that signaled a referendum on Representative Paul Ryan's (R-WI) proposed plan to overhaul the Medicare program.
Hochul emerged victorious in a traditionally conservative district, powered by a late flurry of television and radio advertising highlighting Corwin's support of the House-passed Republican spending plan. Hochul garnered 47 percent of the vote, while Corwin took 42 percent of the electorate and Davis received 9 percent.
The race to succeed former Representative Chris Lee was considered a lock for whoever emerged as the GOP nominee. Republicans held a significant registration advantage in the suburban Buffalo district, which Lee carried with 74 percent of the vote in last November's elections.
With this victory, Medicare has emerged as a potent national issue for Democrats leading up to the 2012 presidential election. The Democrats will aim to parlay the victory and the Medicare issue into a larger attack on Ryan's controversial budget plan, which contains deep spending cuts.
"Kathy Hochul's victory tonight is a tribute to Democrats' commitment to preserve and strengthen Medicare, create jobs and grow our economy," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a statement after the election. "And it sends a clear message that will echo nationwide: Republicans will be held accountable for their vote to end Medicare."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel agreed with Pelosi, saying "Today, the Republican plan to end Medicare cost Republicans $3.4 million and a seat in Congress. And this is only the first seat."
Meanwhile, Republicans continue to support the Ryan budget blueprint and have taken Democrats to task for what Ryan called "scare tactics" and "demagoguery." Representative Phil Gingery (R-GA) said, "To back away from this or to get skittish for fear of losing a few seats or even the majority would be pretty darn irresponsible."
Many Republicans, however, believe they undersold their proposals regarding Medicare and the House budget plan. GOP lawmakers and aides also concede that they have done a poor job of reminding the American people that President Obama's health care plan, passed in the last Congressional session, slices $500 billion from Medicare, and absent comprehensive, structural reform, the program will run out of money by 2024.