Sifting political tea leaves after special House election
June 15, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
The political fortune tellers and the media are sifting the tea leaves left behind after the May 24 special election in New York’s 26th congressional district.
If they are trying to read into this one race a prediction of what is likely to happen nationally in the 2012 congressional and presidential elections, they may be whistling in the dark.
“Medicare key to shocking Dem win in NY House race,” read one headline for an Associated Press report.
“Democrats say US House victory sends message on Medicare,” read a headline for a Newsmax summary of the results.
Of course to those whose stock in trade is the stuff of Democrat believers, the win by Democrat Kathy Hochul over Republican Jane Corwin and two other candidates to fill what has been a Republican seat for 40 years or more, comes like a magic elixir after the Republican drubbing of House Democrats just seven months ago.
The Medicare issue was certainly important to the results in this race, but should not be the only subject of analysis and should not be the only plank on which either party should build a stage for 2012.
Since I live just outside the boundaries of the 26th District, I didn’t have a vote on May 24. However, I have met both of the two main candidates in what became a three-way race on television and a four-way race on the election ballot, and I have known and supported people who held that seat before, including the now disgraced last seat-holder, Christopher Lee. (I’ll say this about Lee: after he resigned his seat earlier this year, he send apologies and checks to those who had contributed to his 2010 reelection campaign. Not many politicians make such a gesture of contrition.)
The New York 26th House District is one of those strange districts created and modified over the years to be predominantly Republican. It runs from some affluent suburbs of Buffalo to some affluent suburbs of Rochester and encompasses lots of rural and small countryside and small towns in five counties between those of Erie and Monroe, where the bigger cities are situated. When Corwin was anointed by the Republican Party, she was already a member of the New York Assembly. I might add that her voting record on gun issues was 100% perfect in Albany.
Besides being an Assemblywoman, Corwin is also a personable, energetic businesswoman, who has long been considered “a comer” by some holding the Republican political ladder although she has not held any other political offices. She was considered the frontrunner and was expected to easily win the special election, especially considering that Republicans held a 27,000 registration edge over Democrats in that district.
Corwin’s loss to Hochul was seen as a stunning upset, and it was, but not only because of the Medicare issue, which was the focus of much of the television, radio and Internet advertising by all candidates. I should note that the race for a House seat that might be erased in reapportionment racked up a whopping $10 million or more in combined advertising spending by the candidates, the national Democrat and Republican Parties, and the millionaire “Tea Party” candidate, Jack Davis, plus an assortment of special interest political action committees. The Green Party candidate Ian Murphy was largely unknown and spent little or anything that could be detected.
Personalities, issue orientation and the quality of the opposition played as much part in the race as the medicare issue. Also missed by many of the commentators was the high marks in constituent service that Hochul had scored as Erie County Clerk.
For gunowners, I should mention that Corwin, Hochul and Davis had all staked-out pro-gun positions. Corwin was rated “A” by the National Rifle Association (NRA) based on her proven pro-gun voting record in Albany. Hochul got an “AQ” rating, meaning that her NRA questionnaire was perfect but she has no clear voting record on the issue. Meanwhile, Davis, who was making his fourth attempt to win that seat, had always publicly taken pro-gun positions. (It should be noted that Davis has run as Democrat, a Republican, and independent and had claimed the Tea Party mantle this time around.)
It would seem that the gun issue was neutralized by the pro-gun public positions of the three candidates, but there is a backdoor aspect of the gun issue that played out in Hochul’s favor in Erie County. I mentioned that as clerk she was very constituent-service oriented. This was not just as the office that handled motor vehicle registrations and licensing for the state, or property records, but the pistol licensing function as well. During Hochul’s term as county clerk, she streamlined service in every department and in the case of pistol licenses, acted as a ombudsman for license holders and applicants. She even had staff present at gun shows in Erie County to process handgun transfers on the spot. All of which she reminded people when she visited gun clubs or functions of the statewide Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE, Inc.)
Hochul, Corwin and Davis came out of Erie County, but Hochul had the highest and most favorable county-wide reputation. In the end, that may have played a bigger role in her victory than all the ads focused on Medicare reform. Yes, Corwin clung to the Ryan plan for reforming Medicare, without explaining her position much. Hochul and Davis hammered her for that support. Hochul didn’t exactly say what she would have done instead of voting for the Ryan plan that pretty well died in the US Senate the day after the special election. What she focused on was continuing the present Medicare system and financing by cutting or eliminating foreign aid handouts to countries like Pakistan.
Some top Republicans campaigned in the district for Corwin and some top Democrats campaigned for Hochul, including former President Bill Clinton in automated, taped telephone messages.
In the end, it was Hochul’s strong base in Erie County, the most populous of seven counties, that won her the election. She carried Erie County by almost 5,000 votes over Corwin, while “losing” in every other county in the district. I put quotes around “losing” because she did better than other Democrat candidates for that seat in past elections.
When it was all added up however, her edge in Erie County was pretty close to her final edge over Corwin. Hochul’s total vote was 48,530 (47%) to Corwin’s 43,836 (43%). Davis, who is generally seen as pulling more votes from Corwin than Hochul, polled 9,495 (9%) and Murphy was a distant last with a total of 1,130 votes (1%). Turnout is another factor to consider in future races. Only about 25% of the eligible voters turned out on May 24.
While some fortune tellers claim that core issue on May 24 was Medicare, as did Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY) after the special election, there will be other issues at play in November 2012.
The breadbasket Medicare and Social Security issue will be prominent, unless settled before the next national elections, and settled better than the Democrats settled the health care issue.
What everyone should remember is that the next national election is more than a year away, and the key issues may be entirely different. What gunowners have to remember is that the gun issue was largely neutralized in this one New York race. Their rights should remain as safe as they can be with any ambitious politician.
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