Democrat Kathy Hochul's upset victory in NY-26: 5 theories

A Democrat wins in a conservative congressional district's special election, after framing the vote as a referendum on the GOP's Medicare reform plans. What does it mean?

Democrat Kathy Hochul
(Image credit: YouTube)

Democrat Kathy Hochul won a special House election in a reliably conservative district of western New York on Tuesday, in what her supporters called a rejection of the effort by House Republicans to turn Medicare into a voucher system. Republicans dismissed the suggestion that the result was a referendum on Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan. They say that the GOP candidate, Jane Corwin, lost because a third candidate, who ran as a Tea Partier, siphoned away some of her votes in the race to replace Chistopher Lee, the GOP congressman who resigned after posting shirtless photos on Craiglist. What was the real message of Tuesday's vote in New York's 26th congressional district? Here, five theories:

1. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan is toxic

Tuesday's vote settles it. "Ryan's Medicare plan is political suicide," says Mickey Kaus at The Daily Caller. Republicans were winning the debate over cutting spending until the House Budget Committee chairman started pushing a budget that would remake Medicare. "Maybe now the GOPs will wise up and actually try to win in 2012."

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2. A Tea Party spoiler can change everything

The GOP "nominated a fairly conservative establishment Republican in Jane Corwin," says Chris Chocola at National Review. But she "did a terrible job articulating the free-market message." That opened the door to an ex-Democrat, Jack Davis, to take up the Tea Party banner, and peel away fiscal conservatives by demagoguing the crucial issue of trade.

3. The GOP surge is officially over

Hochul is so much more popular than Corwin that she would have won even without Davis playing the role of spoiler, says Jonathan Chait in The New Republic. Still, Hochul could not possibly have won this race in 2010, when Americans were pessimistic about the economy and "directed virtually all the blame at the Democrats." The NY-26 surprise proves that, thanks to the GOP's unpopular policies, "the political landscape that produced the Republican sweep of 2010 is gone."

4. Democrats could win back the House in 2012

Sure, this is just one district, says Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling. But it seems to confirm polling indicating that Republicans have gone from winners to losers in nationwide generic ballots, after just a few months in control of the House. This might well be "the first step toward the very real possibility that Democrats take the House back next year."

5. There are no larger lessons here

Let's be honest, says Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary. The only reason anyone is talking about NY-26 being a bellwether is that the national media loves a hot story — political writers wouldn't be claiming this vote meant anything if the Republican had won. In truth, this is just a local race where a lot came into play — from longtime Democrat Jack Davis' phony Tea Party spoiler role to the demoralization of the local GOP "by the absurd scandal that brought down incumbent Congressman Christopher Lee only a few months after an easy re-election victory."

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