Newly-elected Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, D-New York, was a terrific candidate, as good a contender as the Democratic Party could have asked for in the special election to fill the open congressional seat representing New York’s 26th congressional district.
But Hochul did not stand a chance of winning a district so safely Republican that it backed John McCain for president in the 2008 election that saw the rest of the state back Barack Obama. In recent Congressional elections, Republicans have gained as much as 70 percent of the vote. New York’s 26th district backs Republicans by tradition and nature. And it was going to back Republican nominee Jane Corwin to fill the seat vacated by Republican Congressman Chris Lee after the married man got caught trolling for dates on the Internet.
Democratic strategists in Washington weren’t even taking Hochul seriously when the campaign got going. It was Emily’s List and the Working Families Party, a union-backed grassroots party, that kept talking up Hochul—who ran on the third party’s ballot line, taking advantage of New York’s fusion law, which allows cross-endorsements.
Then came Paul Ryan.
The House Budget Committee chair’s budget plan contained a proposal to end Medicare as we know it. Ryan’s scheme—to shift Medicare spending away from providing health-care coverage and toward the accounts of for-profit insurance companies—was transparently obvious.
Polls suggested that roughly 80 percent of Americans thought Ryan’s approach was wrong. Overwhelming majorities favor taxing the rich or cutting Pentagon spending as alternatives to cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Voters told Ryan and other Republicans directly, at town hall meetings in April.
Ryan kept spinning the fantasy that Americans really were in favor of gutting Medicare—even as nervous Republican leaders began to distance themselves from it.
Now, however, Republican discomfort with Ryan’s plan is going to spike. That’s because it has cost the party a congressional seat.
Hochul’s 48-42 win has not just shifted a congressional seat. It has, as Erie County (NY) Democratic Committee chair Leonard Lenihan explained Tuesday night, reshaped the agenda for the next several years.
Hochul says her win sends a message: protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. “It’s that simple,” says the new congresswoman.
Sure, Ryan and his compatriots will try to spin this one.
They will say that third-party candidate Jack Davis, who took 9 percent of the vote (while 1 percent went to Green Ian Murphy), cost Corwin the election. But that is false. Davis ran a hybrid campaign that sought to attract Tea Party votes while building on the base he had built as a union-backed critic of free trade when he ran for the seat in 2006 as a Democrat. Every poll, every analysis on the ground, makes it clear that Davis attracted support from Republicans and Democrats. The Davis is a spoiler argument “is as faulty as the tortured rationale Republicans have used to justify the Ryan budget,” says veteran New York election strategist Matthew Rey.