Political Animal


May 24, 2011 8:35 AM Election Day in New York’s 26th

By Steve Benen

When Rep. Chris Lee (R) resigned in disgrace in February, few expected his seat to change party hands. His Buffalo-area district has been represented by Republicans for a long while, and national Democrats didn’t expect the special election to replace Lee to be competitive at all.

In March, the New York GOP rallied behind Jane Corwin, a well-liked state assemblywoman, and the race in the 26th congressional district appeared to be largely over.

Democrat Kathy Hochul then started talking about the House Republican budget agenda — most notably its plan to end Medicare — and the fact that Corwin endorsed it. And as it turns out, that quickly and radically changed the race from a no-brainer GOP win to a competitive race that’s seen $2.2 million in outside money pumped into the district.

As of the latest polls, Hochul appears to be positioned to win, and Republican officials in D.C. and New York are pessimistic. Indeed, yesterday, we saw the pre-emptive spin phase begin, with GOP officials hoping to convince everyone that a defeat doesn’t really matter.

At his weekly briefing with reporters today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was asked whether a Republican defeat in New York’s 26th district tomorrow — still a possibility, not a certainty — would be a vote against the Ryan plan for Medicare.

“No,” said Cantor. “Not at all. This race is about the fact that it’s a three-way race.”

He explained how things had gotten to this point — how the very effective Jane Corwin candidacy had been tripped up by the Jack Davis campaign — and then went further.

“I know this town loves to take signals from individual races,” he said.

Right. When Scott Brown wins a special election in Massachusetts, it’s an important signal from an individual race. When a Republican struggles in a “red” district in Buffalo, it’s a reminder that there are no important signals to be taken from individual races.

Likewise, Karl Rove’s attack operation, American Crossroads, has invested heavily in boosting the Corwin campaign — by some estimates, the group has spent $700,000 in just the last few weeks — and is now making excuses for the Hochul victory that hasn’t happened. I guess American Crossroads isn’t optimistic, either.

It’s worth noting that the election is today, and it’s certainly possible the Republican will pull out a victory here. Democrats seem delighted the race is even close at all, and already see this as a moral victory, no matter what the outcome is. Indeed, as far as Dems are concerned, win or lose, the 26th shows how poisonous the GOP’s Medicare plan is, and offers a roadmap the party will follow in 2012.

But I’ll be especially interested to see how the Republican spin shifts if Corwin ends up on top. I suspect the message will be, “Never mind all that stuff we said yesterday. This is a huge win that sends a powerful signal.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • JEA on May 24, 2011 8:44 AM:

    So what?

    Dems won special elections last year. It meant NOTHING in November.

    Neither does this one.

  • Stevio on May 24, 2011 8:48 AM:

    Here in WNY it's a big deal. Older folks know they won't be effected by the Ryan lunacy but their kids and grandkids will. If there is one thing parents don't like is to see their kids picked-on. If the Dems don't use a sledge hammer to nail this salient point home then there truly is no hope for them.

  • c u n d gulag on May 24, 2011 8:51 AM:

    I live in Upstate NY, but much, much closer to NYC than Buffalo, which is a good 5-6 hours away.
    But I know that area well because of friends and relatives who went to various colleges close by, and it is a VERY Conservative area - older, and white.

    Hochul's main argument to voters was Corwin's support for Privatizing Ryans Plan, and now the Republicans are trying desperately to either spin their way out of it, laughable asking Democrats not to use it in campaigns, or try to minimize the damage by making believe this district doesn't really matter.

    It does matter. There's little real difference between that part of NY and Mississippi except the winter. And if they start to lose the white and the old, there's really no natural demographic that can be found that supports GOP positions.
    So, in following like lemmings in support of the Ryan plan, they may find themselves to be 'hoist by their own REtards."

    Democrat, if they have any brains (HA!), will press the attack on Ryans plan from now until the end of time.

  • bob h on May 24, 2011 8:53 AM:

    Given that the Teatards don't want anyone messing with their Medicare either, it is not safe to assume that the Republican would have gotten the votes Davis gets.

  • joan on May 24, 2011 8:55 AM:

    Being mindful about all of the states that are writing bills to demand sharia law be outlawed in this country. Could we please have a bill outlawing polygamy in the country (after all we will have two mormons running for president.

  • berttheclock on May 24, 2011 9:16 AM:

    "Mourning" Joe, said, this AM, that should Hochul win, it will be because of demagoguing. Then, he went on with his usual anti-medicare rant of "We must make the people understand what is best for them". It reminded me of a comment by Ryan following a Town Hall meeting, where he told a reporter that the people, simply, didn't understand what he was trying to do.

    Yes, Ryan and Joe, the people really do understand what you are attempting to do.

  • Ron Byers on May 24, 2011 9:17 AM:

    I am still trying to figure out what the Republicans were thinking when they let Privatizing Ryan's plan become the basis of their budget.

    I don't care what they say at Politico. Stupid isn't the same as courageous.

  • Ron Byers on May 24, 2011 9:21 AM:

    Could somebody tell "Mourning" Joe that, yes the people understand exactly what Privatizing Ryan is trying to do. Has he ever listened to the questions being asked Republicans at Town Halls. Yep, the Republican base gets it. The Koch brothers Republicans sponsoring Ryan are pissing on the Republican base hoping they will think it is rain.

    Maybe we ought to look elsewhere to balance the budget. Ending a couple of useless wars and revenue enhancements come to mind.

  • danimal on May 24, 2011 9:40 AM:

    I'm rooting for Hochul. 50%+1 would be a cherry on top. Let's see them spin that.

    Life's too precious to spend watching Morning Joe. Just sayin'.

  • toowearyforoutrage on May 24, 2011 11:04 AM:

    A win with 42% is telling me the 3rd party guy IS the problem for the GOP.

    That said, it doesn't much matter. If Tea Partiers and the Koch brothers insist on plutocracy, the GOP will be shoved so far right that they will be forced to abandon most Americans and only the wealthy and the truly gullible will vote for them. This will get them 50%+1 a surprising amount of the time, but I don't see them keeping a Congressional majority for more than 2 years at a clip.

    They can win the White House. Maybe even re-election for their corporate lapdog du annee, but they will be in the position of Sisyphus with the top of the mountain being the 2000-2006 trifecta.

  • C on May 24, 2011 11:09 AM:

    "This is good news for John McCain." If the stock market goes up, it's because of Republicans. If it goes down, it's because of Obama. If a disaster hits a Dem district it's because of lesbians. If it hits a Rep district only the callous would attribute meaning.

    I think we can safely predict their response.

  • OhNoNotAgain on May 24, 2011 11:40 AM:

    c u n d gulag,

    I live here, and I can tell you that, while there are a large contingent of Republicans, they are on the wane. The city of Buffalo is solidly Democratic, and many of the outlying areas are, as you say, full of old white people that are dying off.

  • sparkyj on May 24, 2011 11:47 AM:

    With the current backlash being experienced by republican House members who voted for the Ryan plan, I'm patiently waiting for that same plan to be presented to the Senate where McConnel and friends can have a chance to put their chips on the table. I'm waiting, waiting, waiting,.....Harry Reid where are your cojones????

  • RR on May 24, 2011 6:34 PM:

    I live in the 26th.

    Reality is the GOP "hand selected" Corwin. That is to say the area party bosses selected her. Republicans as am I are very tired of the GOP selecting who they want and not giving people CHOICES. This is why the likes of Jack Davis pull votes off... he gives Republicans that CHOICE when our own party does not. Period.

    Atop that... Lets see, have Reynolds (the congressman before Christopher Lee) caught up in scandal. Then Chris Lee, caught up in scandal. How many times does the GOP expect the public TRUST them when the representatives are caught in scandals and then ATOP THAT they decide to APPOINT the candidate rather than give people CHOICE.