Kathy Hochul won the special election to represent New York's conservative 26th district Tuesday night, a victory few would have predicted for the Democrat a couple months ago. Hochul won 47 percent of the vote to Republican Jane Corwin's 43 percent, with self-funded Tea Party candidate Jack Davis getting 9 percent. Hochul was able to tie Corwin to the plan crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan and passed by House Republicans to overhaul Medicare, though liberals and conservatives disagree over how decisive that issue was in the race. Nevertheless, Democrats will likely continue attacking the GOP on entitlements through 2012.
Politico's Alexander Burns argues that with the Medicare debate, Democrats have finally found a winning issue after getting hammered by the GOP for two years on spending. "And for the first time since November, the idea that Democrats might have a shot at winning back the House is no longer a laughing matter," Burns writes. He credits Hochul with being able to turn the debate over spending--which has been a winner for the GOP--into one solely about one of the most popular government programs. The Hill's Bob Cusack agrees that "Democrats will be talking about Medicare for the next year and a half." He reports that some Republicans grumble that Democrats were much better on messaging on the issue.
At the National Review, Henry Olsen is stunned by how much blue-collar whites turned against Republicans. Hochul performed best in the most educated county in her district--polling three points ahead of Obama's vote in 2008, the best year for Democrats in decades. But in less-educated counties, Tea Partier Davis siphoned a lot of votes from Corwin, getting a larger share of the votes in the least educated areas.
"The verdict is clear. For whatever reason, the blue-collar independents and Democrats who voted Republican in droves last year did not vote GOP tonight," Olsen writes. "And many blue-collar Republicans voted for Davis rather than Corwin." He continues, "blue-collar voters react differently to issues than the GOP base does. They are more supportive of safety-net programs at the same time as they are strongly opposed to large government programs in general. ... The truth is, if conservatives and Republicans are to move forward with entitlement reform (as they should), they need to address the real concerns of these pivotal voters."
But former Indiana Rep. Chris Chocola, also writing at the National Review, argues that the election wasn't about Medicare, but "a candidate’s ability to defend freedom. ... Corwin did a terrible job articulating the free-market message, and Davis consistently demagogued the important issue of trade."
The Weekly Standard's John McCormack argues Democrats can't consider this an "all that impressive" victory, given the divisions among Republicans. Not only did Davis spend millions attacking Corwin, but David Bellavia, who had hoped to be the Republican candidate, endorsed Davis because Corwin is pro-choice.
Echoing that analysis is the Tea Party Express' Sal Russo, who said, "The goal in politics is to unite your friends and divide your enemies. So the Medicare issue isn’t helpful when Republicans are divided and Democrats are united. Medicare isn’t sustainable.... It can be a winning issue if framed correctly."
The New Republic's Jonathan Chait clearly disagrees with that view, posting "exclusive interviews with House Republicans who voted for the Ryan budget" that's actually just a clip from Arrested Development with a series of characters saying, "I've made a huge mistake."
So who benefits from Hochul's victory? President Obama is continuing his comeback, Cusack says, and among Republicans, Sen. Scott Brown, who came out against his party's plan earlier this week, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who didn't push his colleagues to vote for the Ryan plan.