Liberals are exultant today, predictably pushing the deeply flawed narrative that Democrat Kathy Hochul's victory in the NY-26 special election represents an early and decisive repudiation of the Ryan budget. The Washington Post's reliable lefty talking-points machine, EJ Dionne, proclaims there's no possible way for Republicans to "spin" the result, and besides, he doesn't care what they say anyway:
There is no way for Republicans to spin away Democrat Kathy Hochul’s victory in New York’s deeply red 26th congressional district. This is a big setback for Paul Ryan’s budget and a warning for Republican incumbents everywhere. This is simply not a district a Republican should have lost. Conservative overreach has clearly woken up Democrats and has gone down badly with independents.
I don’t care what Republicans say publicly on Wednesday: This race has to worry them, and it will petrify first-term Republicans in middle-of-the-road or Democratic-leaning districts who voted for the Ryan budget. Democrats should be very grateful that Ryan put his plan together, and that House Speaker John Boehner forced Republicans to vote on it.
Dionne, apparently, is a cheerleader for politically-calculated inaction in the face of an incipient debt crisis that even President Obama warns is coming. Speaker-in-waiting (ahem) Nancy Pelosi is equally ecstatic:
It is my great pleasure to report that tonight, thanks to you, Democrat Kathy Hochul has won a triumphant grassroots victory in the special election in NY-26.
Victories like this are what happen when we fight together to protect our core Democratic values.
Congresswoman-elect Hochul’s victory in a staunchly-Republican district has shocked the political world and sent an unmistakable sign that the American people will not stand for the Republicans’ reckless and extreme agenda to end Medicare.
This is wishful thinking by Democrats. This seat was in play for three primary reasons: (a) The popular, married sitting Congressman couldn't control his libido and chose to broadcast this fact to the online world on Craigslist, (b) a Democrat-turned-fake-tea-partier muddied the waters considerably and pulled nearly ten percent of the vote, and (c) upstate New York Republican officials once again selected a candidate who was unable to unite the center-right. One of the first polls in the district that raised major red flags for Republicans came out roughly two weeks ago. The Sienna survey showed a near dead heat in the strong Republican-leaning district. What did the very same poll also show? Voters in NY-26 -- including independents -- favored the Ryan plan by a significant margin:
First of all, Kathy Hochul is running a campaign strictly as a referendum on the Paul Ryan budget. The problem is that the Republican plan is creaming the Obama plan. According to the poll, 53-36 people want to see the next NY-26 candidate support the Republican plan. This includes a 55-31 split for Republicans amongst Independents.
This contradicts the new conventional wisdom that supporting the Ryan plan sunk Jane Corwin. However, this does not mean NY-26 doesn't contain a cautionary tale for the GOP. It certainly does. In addition to the three factors listed above, Hochul relentlessly focused on the Republican Medicare plan as her primary means of attack, while Corwin ran a more boilerplate anti-tax-and-spend campaign (and was distracted with the additional task of to fending off Tea Party phony Jack Davis all the while). Corwin now admits that it took her far too long to hit back on the Ryan budget, allowing Hochul to dominate that narrative:
“I probably would have addressed the Medicare message coming out of my opponent quicker,” Ms. Corwin said before a small group of elderly New Yorkers and dozens of local and national journalists in Amherst. “I have to admit, when she started making these comments I thought, ‘This is so outrageous no one would ever believe it.’ Apparently some people did.”
The jury is still very much out on whether Democrats can win nationally merely by demagoguing the hell out of the GOP proposal while offering diddly-squat in the way of a viable alternative. But another verdict is in: Republicans who do not proactively defend their plan by pointing out the unsustainability of the status quo, and by turning their fire on Democrats' cowardly abdication and reliance on more cost-cutting government rationing, may very well fall prey to the left's onslaught. Hochul was obviously able to move the needle, and given all the other oddities of this particular race, Corwin didn't wake up to this fact until it was too late.
Democrats may delude themselves into believing that the unique circumstances of NY-26 somehow herald a new left-wing wave in public sentiment. Let them believe that. But by the same token, Republicans ignore the circumstances that led to this Democratic upset victory at their peril.
UPDATE: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus points out that another recent Siena poll shows that a majority of voters in the district said their top issues for this election were jobs, deficits, and taxes. Notice, Democrats, that neither "Medicare" nor "the budget" appears on that list.