Jonathan Chait

The Special Special Election

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I've been harping on the significance of the House special election race in New York as a political bellweather. Obviously, every race is unique, and the presence of a right-wing populist third party candidate is hurting the Republicans. But that shouldn't district from the high significance of this outcome. James Hohmann has an excellent reported piece, with several telling chunks of detail:

1. Backing the Republican budget seemed like the sensible move for Jane Corwin at the time, but she is now backpedaling quickly:

She calls Ryan’s plan “a terrific first step” but makes clear that she will never support controversial vouchers for Medicare. 

“It’s starting a conversation that we absolutely have to have, but I’m not married to it,” she said. “I certainly would entertain any proposals that would improve any of these programs. … I’ve been saying the same thing since Day One.”

2. Candidates in hostile territory usually try to localize their campaign. Sometimes they succeed. In NY-26, a heavily Republican district, the Democrat ought to be trying to localize the race, and the Republican to nationalize it. Instead it's the opposite:

“It should be a local race,” Corwin told POLITICO, as she stopped at a lemonade stand after greeting voters door to door. “Certainly people care about Medicare, absolutely, and that’s why we talk about Medicare. But to hijack the agenda, which is what Nancy Pelosi is doing, it’s a shame. It’s a disservice to the voters of this district to make it into some national agenda.”

A Democratic win based on idiosyncratic local factors is easier to disregard as an outlier than a race based on the national debate.

3. The elderly understand that the Ryan plan exempts them, but they oppose it anyway:

When door-knocking Saturday, the last house Corwin stopped at belonged to 80-year-old George Michael, a retired tradesman. He’s a registered Republican who voted for Obama. He’s undecided in this race. “I’m considering between you and Davis,” he told Corwin.

The difference is Medicare, specifically the voucher. Michael’s chat with Corwin did little to ease his concerns.

“I’ve got a lot of kids,” he said. ...

Hochul regularly mentions “future seniors” when she discusses seniors.

This strikes at the heart of the calculation behind the Ryan plan. Republicans have interpreted the elderly's attachment to Medicare as pure self-interest, and have thus concluded that exempting them from any cuts at all could neutralize their opposition. But it seems that quite a few of them support the principle of Medicare and want the younger generation to get it.

Again, I certainly don't think you can draw a straight-line projection between the surprising race in NY-26 and House races in November. Republicans are still clear favorites to hold the House. But it would be hard to imagine an outcome that augurs more poorly for the Republicans than the one that seems to be unfolding.

(Photo: MARIE DE JESUS, Democrat and Chronicle)

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