Yesterday Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican Jane Corwin in a special election for New York 26th congressional district seat. Hochul received 47% of the vote, with Corwin earning 43%, and Tea Party candidate Jack Davis earning 8%. The win gives Democrats one more vote in the House of Representative, and represents only the fourth time the Democrats have won NY-26 since 1857. Today, analysts are attempting to grasp the larger implications of the results from last night.
If one listens to the Republican talking points NY-26 was an isolated and special case which has no real ramifications for 2012. According to the GOP, the Republican still would have won if not for the pesky Tea Party candidate who “stole” votes from their candidate. However, there are some reasons to suggest that the result in NY-26 could spread to other districts in 2012, and perhaps even cost the Republicans their majority in the House.
First, as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com point out, the results from last night still would have been bad for Republicans if Corwin had received all of the votes for Davis. If Corwin had somehow received all of the votes for Davis, a dubious proposition at best, she would still have only won by four points. In a district so heavily dominated by Republicans someone like Corwin should be able to easily win a special election. In 2010 Republican Chris Lee, later forced to resign because of the infamous Craigslist scandal, won the seat by a 48-point margin (74%-26%). In 2010 the Republican candidate for governor of New York Carl Paladino, the same man caught forwarding emails about bestiality, actually won NY-26 over the Democratic challenger. By any objective measure Republicans should be able to not only win NY-26, but win it very big.
Second, Republicans may face a similar Tea Party challenger in many districts throughout the country in 2012. The Tea Party has certainly shown a willingness to nominate or vote for whoever they want regardless of the consequences (i.e. Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle). All it takes is one “Jack Davis” to pop up in many races across the country in order to complete derail the Republican strategy.
Third, even absent a Tea Party challenger the pressure to conform to Tea Party values may sink many Republican candidates. The key to winning close races in 2012 will be the independent votes. More conservative-minded Democrats, more liberal-minded Republicans, and true independents will decide who has control of the House of Representatives in 2013. If the Republican candidate wishes to avoid a Tea Party challenger, he or she will have to submit to all the Tea Party demands. If someone like Corwin refuses to support the Paul Ryan plan, or expresses support for small tax increases he or she risks losing votes to a challenger from the left, or losing votes through voter apathy. Republican candidates essentially have to be far-right in order to keep their base, which will make it very difficult for them to seem reasonable to the moderate independents.
Finally, there is the personal testimony of many voters and polls taken before the race which suggest that voters did, in fact, vote against Corwin because of her previous support for Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. All but six of the current Republicans in the House voted for Paul Ryan’s plan, and Democrats are sure to pursue the same strategy against them that they did against Corwin.