How Conservatives Are Reacting to Their Surprising Loss in Western New York

Candidates for New York's 26th Congressional District, Republican Jane Corwin, left, and Democrat Kathy Hochul, participate in a debate at the WGRZ studios on Thursday morning, May 12, 2011. The special election to fill a House seat in upstate New York was supposed to be an easy victory for Republicans. But less than two weeks before the May 24 vote, polls show a competitive contest between Republican Jane Corwin and Democrat Kathy Hochul in what's become the first electoral test of GOP budget policies. (AP Photo/Derek Gee - Buffalo News) Photo: Derek Gee/AP2011

As the dust clears on yesterday's special election in Western New York's 26th congressional district, in which Democrat Kathy Hochul easily defeated Republican Jane Corwin by five points in a district where John McCain bested Barack Obama by six points in 2008, the political world has begun to debate the meaning of the results. Democrats, as expected, are convinced that their victory was tantamount to a repudiation of the GOP's Medicare plan, which Hochul turned into one of the race's major issues. Republicans, for the most part, are either in denial that Medicare had anything to do with it (which seems absurd), or believe that, even if it did, it just means they need to sell the plan better. If you'll recall, that's what Democrats told themselves about health care reform in the months prior to losing about a million seats in Congress.

Eric Erickson, Red State:

To say that this special election defeat of the GOP is a repudiation of the GOP’s efforts on Medicare is laughable on its face. The truth of the matter is that the Republican Party of New York sucks and has sucked for a while. It is especially terrible at special elections where the out of touch party leaders pick state legislators who everyone hates and runs them.

Jim Geraghty, Campaign Spot/National Review:

As long as the American public believes that Medicare is fine and no change is needed, the Democrats will thrive with their scare tactics. There is much work to be done.

Chris Chocola, Club for Growth, Corner/National Review:

Political pundits will say that the Republican candidate for Congress in NY-26 lost because of Medicare. They’re wrong. This election was more of a referendum on a candidate’s ability to defend freedom than anything else ... Corwin did a terrible job articulating the free-market message, and Davis consistently demagogued the important issue of trade.

John McCormack, Weekly Standard:

How good are these results for Democrats? Well, it's always good to win another House seat (even though this one may be wiped off the map during redistricting). But it's not clear that the Democrat's share of the vote is all that impressive or significant, given that the election was precipitated by Republican congressman Chris Lee's Craigslist sex scandal and ensuing resignation, and Republicans remained divided throughout the race

Jennifer Rubin, Right Turn/Washington Post:

Democrats are high-fiving, certain that Medicare is now the killer issue for 2012 (and indifferent to the presence of a third-party candidate). I rather doubt it, and not because the New York state Republican party is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. As the Cook Report’s David Wasserman put it recently, “The three-way dynamic in NY-26 is simply more proof that special elections are mutant species. No two of the recent competitive special elections in NY-26, HI-01, PA-12, NY-23, or NY-20 have been exactly alike; their only commonality is that they held very little larger predictive value.”

Henry Olsen, American Enterprise Institute, Corner/National Review:

As I’ve written before, 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. These voters crave stability and are uncertain of their ability to compete in a globalized economy that values higher education more each year. They are also susceptible to the age-old Democratic argument that the secret Republican agenda is to eviscerate middle-class entitlements to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. 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.

Peter Wehner, Contentions/Commentary:

Rather than flee like spooked animals from the Ryan plan, Republicans need to redouble their efforts to defend it. That is one thing that the GOP candidate in the 26th District, Jane Corwin, didn’t do. Distancing oneself from Medicare reform, trying to change the subject, or offering half-hearted defenses for it simply won’t work. What Republicans need to do is to become almost as adapt at defending the Ryan plan as Paul Ryan is. That won’t be easy. But it has now become essential.

Jonathan Tobin, Contentions/Commentary:

Instead of adopting a lame defensive posture as Corwin did, Republicans are going to have try and hang President Obama’s own Medicare reform proposal around the necks of Democrats. Since the consequences of Obama’s plan are far more draconian than those of Ryan’s, the challenge for GOP candidates in the coming year will be to demand that Democrats either support or disavow Obama’s scheme the way Corwin was tied to the Ryan proposal.

Ron Christie, Politico Arena:

As much as Democrats would like to nationalize this race, former Speaker Tip O'Neill's famous line that "all politics is local" is applicable here. Had there not been a well-financed third-party candidate in the race, Corwin would have won rather handily and is positioned to do so next year should she seek the seat for a full two-year term.

Philip Klein, Washington Examiner:

Now, obviously, Medicare played a role in the New York special election, and there's no need for conservatives to dismiss the fact that it's a volatile issue. Perhaps Republicans can learn something from messaging failures in this election. But at the end of the day this is just one data point in a single Congressional district out of 435. So it would be silly for Republicans to panic suddenly flee from the Ryan plan.

John Hinderaker, Powerline:

The Democrats intend to base their 2012 campaign on Medicare demagoguery. This is why they refuse to propose a budget: they know that they can't make the numbers add up without admitting that federal debt will skyrocket to obviously unsustainable levels, as under President Obama's original FY 2012 budget, which has apparently now been withdrawn. It remains to be seen whether this tactic will work across the country as it evidently did in NY-26, but Republicans have every reason to be concerned.

David Frum, Frum Forum:

The political dangers in the Ryan budget could have been predicted in advance. In fact, they were predicted in advance — and widely. Yet the GOP proceeded anyway, all but four members of the House putting themselves on record in favor. Any acknowledgment of these dangers was instantly proclaimed taboo, as Newt Gingrich has painfully learned. Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer have enthusiastically promoted Paul Ryan as a presidential candidate. And this morning, as the reckoning arrives, the denial continues.