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New York Congressional Race Seen as Proxy War on Medicare

The race for Congress in New York's 26th District, a traditionally conservative part of the state, is shockingly close. Democrat Kathy Hochul is surging in the polls by attacking Republican State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin for her support of Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed overhaul of Medicare, arguing the approach will hurt seniors.

"My opponent has said that she would have voted for the Ryan budget had she been in Washington. Those are her words, not mine, so you can check the record," said Hochul.

Medicare coverage is a central theme in the battle. Corwin, a millionaire businesswoman, has fired back alleging that it's Hochul, the Erie County Clerk, who plans to slash funding for Medicare and Social Security.

"There have been a lot of lies and distortions about what my position on Medicare is, and it scares seniors quite frankly and I'm shocked and appalled by that. And I think it's important seniors understand that I'm trying to save the program," said Corwin in the waning hours of the campaign. "I want to protect it for them and for future generations."

Third party candidate and multimillionaire, Jack Davis, has tried to claim the Tea Party moniker. Trailing distantly in the polls, Davis still resents implications he could cost Corwin the election.

"They're taking votes from me. I'm not taking them from them, alright," he said.

Davis, who ran three times in the district as a Democrat and lost every race, is dumping millions of his own cash into the contest, even as the Tea Party Express -- one of the most active contingents in the movement -- cruised into town to call him a "fraud," throwing their weight to Corwin.

Not so, said Davis. "If you look at [my record] carefully and see what the common trail was, it's always about getting on the ballot and then working to save jobs, farms and industry."

More than $2 million worth of outside money is gushing into the contest. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $400,000 and funded an ad painting Hochul and Davis as mere puppets of Nancy Pelosi, a strategy used widely during the 2010 midterms. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent more than $260,000 on the contest. American Crossroads, a conservative organization, spent nearly $700,000 attacking Hochul and Davis. The recently formed House Majority PAC, a Democratic group, spent more than $370,000 hitting Corwin, along with more than $140,000 spent by the Communications Workers of America.

Last minute robocalls placed by key party powerhouses added to the onslaught of advertising. Former President Bill Clinton recorded for Hochul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for Corwin.

The winner of the race will replace the former Republican Rep. Chris Lee who resigned after a shirtless photo surfaced on the web along with evidence that the married lawmaker was looking to meet woman online.

The repercussions of this race have not been lost on Washington insiders eyeing the possible implications for races in 2012 and whether or not this race is a referendum on GOP Medicare plans.

If the GOP loses in New York's 26th, Republicans will still outnumber Democrats in the House by a large margin, but a loss here in a district Sen. John McCain carried by 6 percentage points over President Obama in 2008 will provide bragging rights for Democrats and further fuel the raging controversy over how to solve entitlement program challenges for the long-term.

Molly Line joined Fox News Channel as a Boston-based correspondent in January 2006.