The victory of Democrat Kathy Hochul over Republican Jane Corwin and third party challenger Jack Davis in New York's 26th congressional district has intensified the debate over Medicare reform and how much of an impact Republican plans for an overhaul will have when voters head to the polls in 2012.
Congresswoman-elect Hochul made Medicare a central issue in the election. Her campaign released attack ads warning that Corwin's support of the Paul Ryan budget plan and efforts to change Medicare would cost seniors.
Frustrated by what she called "lies and distortions" of her position, Corwin struggled to convey how her efforts in the U.S. Capitol would aim to save the program.
At one point during Hochul's victory address the elated crowd broke into chants of "Medicare! Medicare!"
Hochul thanked supporters who packed inside a United Auto Workers hall in Amherst, New York to await election results and hear her speak. She thanked the people who crossed the aisle to vote for her in a district dominated by Republicans and argued the budget could be balanced without hurting seniors by closing corporate loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas, ending government handouts to big oil and making millionaires and billionaires pay "their fair share."
"We can do all that and not decimate Medicare," said Hochul.
The national response to Hochul's win has been swift as political heavy weights and activists offer spin from both sides of the aisle.
"Today, the Republican plan to end Medicare cost Republicans $3.4 million and a seat in Congress," Democratic Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Israel said in a statement. "[T]his is only the first seat... We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare. Even in one of the most Republican districts, seniors and independent voters rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare. The American people will continue to hold House Republicans accountable for their plan to end Medicare from now until Election Day 2012."
While some Democrats argue the results in upstate New York are a referendum on Ryan's budget plan, Ryan himself argues "scare tactics" are distracting the country from the true fiscal challenges facing the Medicare program.
"It's a preview of scare tactics, distortions, demagoguery to try and scare seniors to voting for them, and the irony of it is we're the ones who are actually protecting Medicare for current benefits for current seniors. They're the ones that passed the law that actually compromises their Medicare and allows the program to collapse," said Ryan Wednesday on Fox & Friends. "We have a year and a half and I believe in a year and a half's time the truth will get out, the facts will be known."
Republicans worked to downplay the influence of what has been dubbed "Mediscare" tactics.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus released a statement reminding people that a third party candidate, Jack Davis, played a role in the election. Davis previously ran in the district as a Democrat three times and lost. This election he adopted the Tea Party moniker despite a lack of Tea Party backing.
"Jane Corwin ran a strong campaign in spite of facing a Democrat and a Democrat posed as a Tea Party candidate, both of whom sought to distract from the central issues in the minds of voters: restoring our economy and creating jobs," Preibus said in a statement. "If we have learned anything from these results it is that Democrats will stop at nothing to preserve the status quo in Washington which is propelling our country towards bankruptcy. Kathy Hochul's reckless disregard for the looming insolvency of critical government programs and our crushing debt will allow her to feel right at home in Nancy Pelosi's Democrat caucus."
Priebus is also looking ahead, warning that the next race for Hochul will be much harder to win, writing, "There is no question Kathy Hochul will have a tough time holding onto this seat in 2012 with Barack Obama and his failed economic leadership weighing heavily on the minds of western New York voters when they return to the polls."
Another indication the central issue of this election will be pushed to the forefront as GOP White House hopefuls continue to woo crowds in early voting states is a single word Tweet released last night by Holly Shulman, the New Hampshire Democratic Party Communications Director.
The word: Medicare.