Thanks to a number of unique circumstances the Democrats actually have a chance to win a seat in a district dominated by Republicans. New York’s 26th congressional district has gone to Democrats only three times since 1857. The district has traditionally had a Republican demographic, something that has been ensured through the process of gerrymandering. However, two polls now have the Democrat leading in the special election to be held today.
The special election was necessitated by the resignation of former United States Representative Chris Lee, who resigned after shirtless photos of him emerged on the personal ads space of Craigslist. Lee is married. After first denying that he was the person in the ads he later confessed and then quickly resigned.
Lee’s actions likely helped tarnish the Republican brand in New York’s 26th district. Since that time the Republicans have struggled for two other reasons.
First, a Tea Party candidate named Jack Davis emerged to challenge the “establishment Republican.” Davis has stayed in the race, and while he likely has no chance of winning, he is succeeding in taking away support from the Republican Jane Corwin. According to the most recent poll from Siena College Corwin is getting 9% the vote, with Corwin receiving 38% and Democrat Kathy Hochul receiving 42% of the vote.
The second factor making the race competitive is Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to significantly change the Medicare system. Ryan is obviously not a candidate in New York 26th district, but his plan has become the most significant issue in the election. Ryan’s plan would essentially turn Medicare into a voucher system. Starting in 2021 seniors would start receiving a “premium support” voucher to purchase private insurance rather than receiving guaranteed coverage as they do under the current Medicare system. If the voucher did not pay for premiums the individual would have to make up the difference on their own. At the start of the campaign Corwin expressed her support for the Ryan plan. Hochul hammered away at the issue, accusing Corwin of wanting to “end Medicare as we know it.” Corwin has since tried to walk back her support for the Ryan plan, but the damage seems to have already been done.
If Hochul is able to win it may be a bad omen for Republicans in 2012. All but four Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for Paul Ryan’s plan. Democrats plan to use those votes against Republicans in the upcoming election, and if Democrats can use the Medicare issue to win in New York’s 26th district they can likely use it to win almost anywhere in the country.