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May 25, 2011 8:00 AM GOP overreach turns a red district blue

By Steve Benen

As of two months ago, Democratic Party officials didn’t want to invest any money at all in the special election in New York’s 26th district — they saw the Buffalo-area race as a sure loser. It’s a ruby-red district, and with a credible Republican candidate, nearly everyone in both parties assumed the race wouldn’t be especially close.

As it turns out, the outcome wasn’t especially close, but in a way that was hard to predict when the race got underway.

Much to the chagrin of Republicans, the defining issue of the special election was the House GOP’s radical budget plan, most notably the Republican drive to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme. Jane Corwin (R) said she supported her party’s plan, and Kathy Hochul (D) talked about little else.

When the dust settled, Hochul won by four, 47% to 43%, in one of the most reliably Republican districts in the Northeast. If this race had been held in November 2010, Corwin would have won by double digits, without breaking a sweat. But thanks entirely to Republican extremism, the political landscape has already changed quite a bit over the last six months.

Indeed, if these three paragraphs don’t make the Republican Party nervous, they’re just not paying close enough attention.

Voters, who turned out in strikingly large numbers for a special election, said they trusted Ms. Hochul, the county clerk of Erie County, to protect Medicare.

“I have almost always voted the party line,” said Gloria Bolender, a Republican from Clarence who is caring for her 80-year-old mother. “This is the second time in my life I’ve voted against my party.”

Pat Gillick, a Republican from East Amherst, who also cast a ballot for Ms. Hochul, said, “The privatization of Medicare scares me.”

The standard GOP talking point on this special election is to note that Jack Davis, running as a Tea Partying independent, split the right and made it impossible for Corwin to win. It’s a weak excuse. For one thing, given Hochul’s margin of victory, the results were still a disaster for the GOP, Davis or no Davis. For another, if Republicans thought a third-party spoiler made the race unwinnable, why did the national party, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Karl Rove’s attack operation invest so heavily to try to win?

What we saw in Buffalo was a test — how is the public responding to the GOP’s far-right agenda in Congress? It’s a test Republicans failed.

Those vulnerable GOP incumbents who voted to eliminate Medicare because their party leaders told them to have every reason to be nervous. These members were likely told, “Don’t worry, during your re-election campaign, the party, the Chamber, and Crossroads GPS will rally behind you in your district. Everything will be fine.”

Of course, they said the same thing to Jane Corwin. If it didn’t help her in a reliably red district, the anxiety among swing-district Republicans this morning should be palpable.

Overreach comes with consequences. The DCCC should be sending a gift basket to Boehner, Cantor, and Paul Ryan.

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.

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  • Bill on May 25, 2011 8:04 AM:

    "�I have almost always voted the party line,� said Gloria Bolender, a Republican from Clarence who is caring for her 80-year-old mother. �This is the second time in my life I�ve voted against my party.�"

    Ms. Bolender should probably consider that this is the umpteenth time her party has voted against her own interests.

  • j on May 25, 2011 8:06 AM:

    This was a great result! It looks like we had a very good candidate, which also helped.
    Now we are going into the election season I would respectfully ask if you could post (or just read)the article by Frank Schaeffer in 'The Peoples View', also crossposted at Daily Kos. I think every democrat should read it!

  • berttheclock on May 25, 2011 8:06 AM:

    Jack Kemp, once, held this congressional seat. A young man looking for work in the political field went to him and applied for a job with him. He was accepted and began his career. His name was Paul Ryan. How appropriate Ryan's first loss was in that district.

  • c u n d gulag on May 25, 2011 8:07 AM:

    Lets hope that Republicans stick to this Ryan albatross, and that the Democrats are smart enough NOT to concede ANYTHING on Medicare, Medicaid, or especially SS, in the coming debt ceiling and budget fights.

    Because you know the Republicans would like nothing better than some even minor concessions on those which they will then use to run and beat the Democrats with in 2012.

    And Im not only looking, Im f*cking DIRECTLY STARING at you, Biden, Durbin, and Stinky Whoreyer.
    Let Pelosi lead you on these issues. PLEASE!!!

    Oh, and if you thought Boehner and Cantor had a tough time before this, well, boys, have fun now! LOL!!!

    I'm sure going to enjoy watching your act for the next year and a half before you go back to the minority.

  • bluestatedon on May 25, 2011 8:08 AM:

    "The DCCC should be sending a gift basket to Boehner, Cantor, and Paul Ryan."

    Let's hope that the Democratic "leaders" in Congress get the message as well: don't make the GOP's task easier by agreeing to put Medicare "on the table." Doing so will muddy the waters and enable GOP candidates to claim that Democrats recognize that Medicare needs significant overhauling. Given the absolute lying intransigence that the Republicans have displayed, and their true motives, any and all work to deal with long-term Medicare issues ought to be tabled by Dems until after the 2012 election.

  • Ron Byers on May 25, 2011 8:13 AM:

    A sane Republican leadership would read this result as a signal to back off the crazy. They would raise the debt ceiling and fight like hell to reduce the next budget in a balanced if conservative way. All the Right Wing Social Engineering (tm) would be withdrawn from the table. They would tell Dick Army and the Kock Brothers and the rapidly shrinking Tea Party to go to hell.

  • John R AKA Mr. Serf Man on May 25, 2011 8:13 AM:

    Like Michael Moore said last night on Lawrence O'Donnell When the republicans state that tax increases are "off the table" , you don't go in to negotiations saying everything is on the table . He said it : Democrats need to state that Medicare and Social security are our off the table item ..and run with it.

  • Ron Byers on May 25, 2011 8:18 AM:

    The interesting thing about this election are the numbers. The tea party guy was a non-factor. If he hadn't run, I am sure a lot of the Tea Party base would have voted for the Democrat. Many of them are on Medicare and don't want the government messing with their healthcare.

    Beck, Hannedy and Limbaughs' ratings are all down.

    The point is the bloom is off crazy. People are demanding responsible leadership. That leaves Obama almost the only game around.

  • tomb on May 25, 2011 8:20 AM:

    The reports I heard said that the much of the outside "GOP" money was spent on ads attacking the Tea Party candidate Jack Davis. I wonder if that will cause any hard feelings toward the GOP from tea party folks.

  • Ben on May 25, 2011 8:20 AM:

    This is the second time in my life I've voted against my party.

    Over sixty years, this is her second non-Republican vote? Wow; I have trouble identifying with such a primal level of party identification.

    But I do wonder when the first time was.

  • sparky on May 25, 2011 8:23 AM:

    Yet another possible gift in the mail for democrats. If Eric Cantor stands by his call for budget cuts to match any disaster relief for tornado victims, the republican party is likely to have a bloody nose to accompany the two black eyes from the medicare fiasco. Trying to put strings on disaster aid that is needed immediately is not good government. From a political standpoint Cantor is suggesting that aid, much of which is destined for dark red states, be witheld as part of his silly-assed political game. Dumb, dumb, dumb, gotta love it.

  • Ron Byers on May 25, 2011 8:28 AM:

    I shared Eric's call for tying disaster relief to budget cuts with some really hard rock Missouri Republicans. They called me names. I am a sad sick person for trying to politicize tragety. I responded by saying don't blame me, blame Eric Cantor.

    My own guess is he is going to receive a call from Boehner this morning and will back way off his stupid position.

  • berttheclock on May 25, 2011 8:30 AM:

    Unless FAUX has "reported" it, has it really happened?

    Yes, the Democratic politicos should not only never allow Medicare and Medicaid be "on the table", but, should demand the programs be properly funded. Sad to see so many over 50 being out of work due to age discrimination and off shoring. Age limit for Medicare should be dropped to 55. The extremely wealthy has reaped so much from off shoring. Tax them to pay for the funding.

  • MattF on May 25, 2011 8:32 AM:

    I agree that outside of DC, the bloom is off the crazy. Problem for Republicans is that a good chunk of the professional right wing brigade, e.g., Rove, Limbaugh, Norquist, Candor, Ryan, etc., are not going to back down. In fact they will double down-- raise the volume, the threat level, the cognitive dissonance. If you're not with them, you're against them.

  • bdop4 on May 25, 2011 8:36 AM:

    Dems need to extend this message beyond Medicare, which only the most obvious manifestation of the GOP's total contempt for government and the public interest.

    Yes, folks, Medicare is a 100% government solution for your problems and there are a lot of other things that government does to protect you through responsible oversight and regulation.

    It's time to mount an assault on the republicans' favorite message: government is bad.

  • stevio on May 25, 2011 8:37 AM:

    As I posted earlier in the week, the talk around WNY where I live was that seniors don't want ANYONE messing with the social safety net. The talk was,"well sure, I'll be OK but what about my kids who are in their forties? Hell they'll be broke just trying to get insurance".

    The dems have a gold mine here. Two mines if they continue to tie the GOP line that tax cuts to the rich are off the table. This one-two punch will be the Dem haymaker in 2012, especially if these low information voters continue to get it:They have been voting against their own best self-interests!

    What fun...

  • berttheclock on May 25, 2011 8:39 AM:

    @Ben, there was a call-in, last week, to C-Span from a 90 year old Republican lady. She said she had voted Republican her entire life. She added she thought Newt was the smartest man in the USA.

    However, this reminds me of some of those millionaire NFL players, such as Matt Hassleback, who have campaigned for RepuGs. Yes, they declared they were strong RepuGs. Funny to see them reap the whirlwind of the two Bush appointees on the 8th Circuit Appellate Court who have sided with the owners. NFL guys, you wanted to see a Duane Benton, eh? Well, you got him.

  • nycweboy on May 25, 2011 8:56 AM:

    As much as this is a big upset - and a good sign for 2012 - I'd dispute the notion that the national Democrats were right to dismiss this race as a done deal at the start. The New York State Republican party is a mess right now, and this election was, in essence, a replay of NY-23 where Democrats regained a seat not held since Reconstruction. I suspect Corwin was damaged, as well, by coming out of the NY State Assembly, which has been a disaster for at least the last 4 years. Hochul's record was more local, and she came off as down to Earth and part of her local community. That matters, a lot, for how Dems approach races nationally.

    The point here, I think, is that too many political watchers take too much for granted - that districts stay red or blue forever, that a sensible challenge won't attract a rrasonable voter. I don't particularly understand why Ben, or others, find the idea of a lifelong party-line voter so odd - I've never, ever voted for a Republican. I don't expect I ever will (though in New York, with so many other party lines, not voting for a Dem isn't hard, when the Dem is also lousy). That said, what I want most is a choice, and I think most voters would like that as well. To me, that means liberal activists should think harder about challenging established Dems in primaries, and Democrats shouldn't just give seats away because history says only Republicans can take a seat. Our problem in politics these days, I'm convinced, is less the polarization we face than the decision to give up in the face of it. I'm a Democrat beause I think we're right about stuff, and because I think we can do more for most people. Winning this race wasn't hard. We should take this success and apply it nationally.

  • Barbara on May 25, 2011 9:02 AM:

    I am a cynic and my take on this race is pretty simple. For 40 years Republicans have stood and barked about entitlements and deficits (when D's had the reins), on the one hand, and affirmative action or appropriate code words on the other, leading lots of white people who make up ruby red districts like this one to assume that Republicans would or could strip benefits from OTHER people, you know, dark people. Who knows whether this is a lasting phenomenon, but they might want to consider that bit of cultural wisdom credited to Dietrich Bonhoffer, as in, "First they came for . . ." but in this case, it's, "First they came for CETA training, and then they came for family planning, and then they came for Medicaid," and so on. How much more evidence do you need that Republicans are out to cut all safety net programs, not just the ones that disproportionately serve poor and minority populations?

  • Rochester on May 25, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Jack is not a Tea Party Candidate

    Just so you guys understand, I live next to this district, and believe me, Jack is no Tea Party whack-a-doodle. In fact, he doesn't seem to belong to any party, ideologically. He just used the Tea Party to get on the ballot by gathering the necessary signatures.

  • DAY on May 25, 2011 9:06 AM:

    " Hochul's record was more local, and she came off as down to Earth and part of her local community"- nycweboy.

    Note to DNC: Run human beings, instead of empty suit politicians.

  • berttheclock on May 25, 2011 9:25 AM:

    Barbara makes an excellent point. When, Stockman revealed the Reagan plan was a version of starving the beast, they assumed he only meant those Cadillac driving Welfare Queens of the world. Same as those NFL millionaires who supported Bush. They never thought they would lose in court to Bush appointees.

  • rob on May 25, 2011 9:57 AM:

    "theyre just not paying close enough attention"
    They are paying attention to nothing but their extreme right wing ideological fantasy and one can only hope it destroys their power before they destroy this country.

  • david1234 on May 25, 2011 10:46 AM:

    I do not think most elites realize just how badly the Republicans have hurt themselves over Medicare. It is not just swing-district Republicans that should be worried. Voting to end Medicare is not just unpopular, it is a deal breaker. This is an issue that makes single issue pro-life voters hold their nose and vote for a pro-life Democrat.

  • Doctor Biobrain on May 25, 2011 1:27 PM:

    For anyone interested, here's my post on how this lesson applies to Democrats: Boldness Loses Again

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