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Democrat Wins Special Election to Fill Craigslist Congressman’s Seat

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By HVpolitics on May 25, 2011

It seems at once improbable and amusing that a 46-year-old married father trolling Craigslist for discreet encounters with women and transgenders would not only lead to a conservative red district flipping blue but also a referendum on Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to murder senior citizens with his bare hands.

But that’s exactly what’s happened in New York’s 26 District.

(Well, not exactly — the referendum was about Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare, not bury seniors up to their heads in sand at low tide and wait for the water to rise.)

Like now-Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Democrat Kathy Hochul was considered a hey-at-least-give-it-a-try loser just two months before the special election to fill the seat vacated by Clueless Craigslist Congressman Chris Lee. How big was the hole that Hochul had dug for her before jumping into the race? Chris Lee won re-election in 2010 with 74 percent of the vote. This was Jack Kemp’s old district. Hochul had no shot.

On Tuesday night, however, Hochul pulled off the upset of all upsets: She defeated Republican candidate Jane L. Corwin in a race that largely hinged on whether Republicans would turn Medicare into Vouchercare. Hochul won 47 percent of the vote; Corwin took 43 percent. Camera-swatting Tea Party candidate Jack Davis took 9 percent of #NY26 vote.

Voters turned out in bigger numbers than usual for a special election, which may have been due to the single issue election this turned out to be or because $6 million of radio and television advertising dollars flooded the district over the last few weeks and months.

In 2009 and 2010 the GOP used President Obama’s health-care overhaul to rile up the electorate, which then voted overwhelmingly Republican at the midterm polls. Just more than half a year later, Democrats seized on Rep. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” to deliver a message to voters in this district, and by extension, nationwide: Either you vote for the D and therefore save Medicare, or you vote for the R and pray you hit the scratch-off lottery to pay for your health care.

The Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal and Ryan Grim broke down the polling numbers, and they conclude that Medicare will be the defining issue of the 2012 election.

That changed on April 26 when the Hochul campaign began airing an ad that hit Corwin for saying “she would vote for the 2012 Republican budget that would essentially end Medicare,” that would have seniors “pay $6,400 more for the same coverage” and would “cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.”

Just before Hochul’s television campaign shifted to Medicare, a Siena Research survey showed Corwin leading Hochul by a surprisingly narrow margin, 36 percent to 31 percent. But ten days later, an automated survey conducted by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling and sponsored by SEIU showed Hochul leading by four points (35 percent to 31 percent). And in the final week, two more surveys, one from PPP and one from Siena College, both showed Hochul leading by similar margins.

Jef Pollock, Hochul’s pollster, told HuffPost that the numbers showed the Democrat winning among seniors and independents, two groups that broke heavily for Republicans in 2010.

Of course, this is a special election, and this isn’t necessarily a harbinger of things to come. Republicans are already screaming as loud as they can that this race won’t predict future results. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) released this statement: “Republican Jane Corwin ran a hard-fought campaign against two well-funded Democrats, including one masquerading under the Tea Party name. Obviously, each side would rather win a special election than lose, but to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky. History shows one important fact: the results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes. If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel felt another way: ““Today, the Republican plan to end Medicare cost Republicans $3.4 million and a seat in Congress. And this is only the first seat…We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare. Even in one of the most Republican districts, seniors and independent voters rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare. The American people will continue to hold House Republicans accountable for their plan to end Medicare from now until election day 2012.”

Public Policy Polling says don’t read too much into it, but don’t call it meaningless either:

So you may say all that’s fine but it’s just one district. But NY-26’s results are not occurring in a vacuum. Democrats had a 7 point lead at 47-40 on our last look at the national generic Congressional ballot. And Democrats have led the generic Congressional ballot on 7 consecutive national polls we’ve asked about it on going back to mid-February. Voters shifted sharply back toward the Democrats after just a couple months of Republican control of the House.

One thing’s for sure: It took Gawker to catch a cheating congressman, and it took that cheating congressman’s resignation to force an early referendum on a drastic, dangerous plan that virtually ended the Draft Paul Ryan movement before it started. Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.

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