Republicans have spent this week trying to downplay the notion that Democrat Kath Hochul’s upset victory in this week’s special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District was a referendum on the Medicare-ending Republican budget. First, they blamed Tea Party candidate Jack Davis for splitting the conservative vote, but as The New York Times’ Nate Silver, Slate’s Dave Wiegel, and others noted, the math shows it’s highly unlikely that Republican Jane Corwin would have won even without Davis.
With the Davis-as-spoiler talking point debunked, the new conservative argument seems to be that Corwin was an inferior candidate, so her loss speaks more about Corwin than about Medicare. “Jane Corwin was not a good candidate,” wrote Erick Erickson, editor of the influential Tea Party blog Red State. “Certainly the Democrats made Paul Ryan’s medicare plan an issue, and certainly it was not hugely popular. But to say that is why Corwin was defeated is spin devoid of fact.”
Speaking carefully, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin that Corwin “allowed her opponent to define her.” He dismissed the idea that the vote was a referendum on the GOP Medicare plan as “noise being created by some partisan journalists and Democrats.”
Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West (R-FL) had even harsher words for Corwin on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal yesterday, saying she was inferior even to former Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY), who resigned in disgrace following his Craigslist sex scandal:
WEST: I think Chris Lee won that election back in November with I think more than 70 percent. So if you look at a candidate who could not inspire people to come out and just get 52 to 53 percent, I think that’s more of a reflection of the candidate. … I know a lot of people are trying to demagogue and say this is a referendum on Paul Ryan the quote unquote Medicare issue…but I think you have to look at the candidate.
But these very same lawmakers who now are trashing Corwin not only supported her, but campaigned for her. Boehner made a high profile trip to the 26th District earlier this month, where he attended a fundraiser for Corwin and declared her the “only one conservative in the race.” For his part, West sang Corwin’s praises in a robo-call he recorded for her:
Jane Corwin is the only endorsed Tea Party candidate and the only candidate who will stand up to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and their out-of-control spending agenda. Our national debt is out of control. And it’s simple — we need Jane Corwin to be a part of the majority in the House of Representatives to bring fiscal discipline back to Washington, D.C.
Blaming Corwin won’t change the fact that polling indicated the GOP Medicare plan was voters’ single most important issue in choosing a candidate to support. The plan’s author, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), even tacitly endorsed this idea, re-posting a Washington Post article on his PAC’s website with the headline “N.Y. Race is a Referendum on GOP Medicare Plan.”
The election confirmed what numerous polls had already shown — Americans don’t want to privatize Medicare and will take that conviction to the voting booth.