- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Democrat Kathy Hochul pulled off a stunning, come-from-behind victory Tuesday night in New York’s 26th Congressional District in a race that was billed as a proxy fight over the GOP’s plans to change Medicare.

Mrs. Hochul, Erie County clerk, defeated Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, a Republican, who finished second, and independent Jack Davis, who finished a distant third, according to the Associated Press, which called the race shortly after 10 p.m.

With 97 percent of the votes counted, Mrs. Hochul had 48,530 votes (47 percent), leading Mrs. Corwin’s 43,836 votes (43 percent) and Mr. Davis’ 9,495 votes (9 percent) to claim victory.

The loss could serve as a gut check for the GOP’s support of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan’s plan to slice trillions from federal spending in the coming years in part by transforming Medicare into a subsidy-driven program.

Democrats, meanwhile, hope the win is the first step toward regaining the political footing they lost in the 2010 election, when Republicans scored historic wins in the House, picking up 63 seats, and captured six seats in the Senate. The outcome also increases the likelihood that Democrats will dig their heels in on the issue, casting the outcome as a stiff rebuke of the Republican agenda, while trying to ride voter anger with the Ryan plan to victory in the 2012 election.

With the country running trillion-dollar deficits and having run up a $14.3 trillion national debt, Mr. Ryan rolled out a plan earlier this year, dubbed the “Path to Prosperity,” to slice trillions of dollars in federal spending this decade. Under the plan, Medicare would be remained for those 55 years of age or older, the millions who receive health care coverage under the program today. But others would receive a subsidy from the government to help them cover the cost of obtaining coverage from a private insurer.

The Republican-controlled House passed the plan a little more than a month ago and the Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to shoot it down later this week.

The seat opened up when Rep. Chris Lee abruptly resigned after sending shirtless pictures of himself to a woman he apparently met online.

Despite the scandal, it seemed unlikely the seat would switch parties, given the district’s strong GOP pedigree. Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 30,000 in the Buffalo-area district, which has churned out a number of well-known lawmakers, including former Rep. Jack Kemp and Tom Reynolds, while supporting George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Carl Paladino in the gubernatorial race last year.

But the race started going south for Mrs. Corwin after she announced her support for the Ryan plan. Mrs. Hochul pounced on the announcement, attacking Mrs. Corwin’s stance, while vowing to protect seniors by ensuring the survival of Medicare and Social Security.

Heading into the final day of the campaign, the outcome remained uncertain and the candidates spent the final hours of the campaign crisscrossing the district, urging voters to head to the polls.

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, downplayed the result, saying, “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.”

He said historically special elections “are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes.”

But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the outcome proved that Mrs. Hochul was a perfect fit for the district and that “New Yorkers of all political persuasions do not want to destroy Medicare.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel said, “We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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