The Spin Cycle: What Caused NY-26 Upset? Congressional Leaders Weigh In

By John R Parkinson

May 25, 2011 1:55pm

ABC News’ John R. Parkinson (@JRPabcDC) reports:

A little more than six months after Republicans surfed an electoral tsunami to the majority by picking up 63 seats in the House last November, Democrats have began chipping away at the majority, scoring a stunning political upset in the special election in New York’s 26 congressional district.

With Democrat Kathy Hochul’s rare victory in a historically dark-red Republican district, Democratic insiders are pointing to the vote as a national referendum on the Republicans’ “Path to Prosperity” budget — a plan to transform Medicare into a premium support program.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Hochul’s victory “a tribute to Democrats’ commitment to preserve and strengthen Medicare, create jobs, and grow our economy,” and noted that the upset would echo nationwide as Democrats hold Republicans “accountable for their vote to end Medicare.”

“Congresswoman-elect Hochul will add an independent, strong, passionate voice to the House Democratic Caucus as she works to build a better future for her constituents and for all Americans, bolster our middle class, support small businesses, and restore our economic prosperity,” Pelosi, D-Calif., stated. “We look forward to welcoming her to the House of Representatives.”

Republicans, on the other hand, blame the loss on a third-party candidate, Democrat-turned-Tea Party candidate Jack Davis, who won about 9 percent of the vote. Davis poured more than $2 million of his own money into his campaign.

“Special elections are called ‘special’ for a reason, and this one certainly lived up to its billing,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.  “Jane Corwin ran as the only conservative in a tough campaign against two opponents who poured millions into winning this seat.”

One Republican campaign operative said that Corwin was essentially distracted from the head-to-head match with Hochul once polling showed Davis seizing a sizeable chunk of support. The operative says that six weeks out, Corwin shifted her focus and money from a general election with Hochul into a primary battle with Davis. In the end, the source says, Corwin was unable to make the turn back to Hochul.

“She was fighting a two-front war, and during the campaign had to shift focus and start attacking Davis because he was polling at 25 percent, which gave Hochul an opening to define herself,” the source said. “Medicare may have been the defining issue of the race, but it’s not what cost her the election.”

Both Democratic and Republican campaign operatives agree that Chris Lee’s fall from grace and subsequent resignation from office likely had a negligible impact on the electorate.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Hochul led Corwin by six points, 47 percent to 43 percent. While it’s impossible to gauge precisely where Davis’s votes might have gone had he dropped out of the race, it’s clear that both factors – the third-party effect and Medicare – played a shared role in turning the political tide in NY-26.

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