Democrat Special Election Win in N.Y. Not Mandate against Medicare Reform

By Matt Cover | May 26, 2011 | 4:01 AM EDT

( – The special election victory Democrats scored in New York’s District 26 on Tuesday is not the repudiation of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Medicare reform plan that top Democrats are claiming it is. Kathy Hochul, the Democratic victor, only garnered 47 percent of the vote.

“Kathy Hochul’s victory tonight is a tribute to Democrats’ commitment to preserve and strengthen Medicare, create jobs, and grow our economy. And it sends a clear message that will echo nationwide: Republicans will be held accountable for their vote to end Medicare,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement on Tuesday.

House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said Hochul’s victory showed that the public had rejected Ryan’s Medicare reforms, which were passed by the GOP-controlled House on a party-line vote.

“Today, the Republican plan to end Medicare cost Republicans $3.4 million and a seat in Congress. And this is only the first seat,” Israel said. “Even in one of the most Republican districts, seniors and independent voters rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare.”

However, Israel, Pelosi, and other Democrats did not mention that their candidate failed to garner a majority of the vote. In fact, 52 percent of the electorate voted for someone other than the Democratic candidate – Republican Jane Corwin won 43 percent and imposter Tea Party candidate Jack Davis won nine percent.

However, Davis also campaigned against reforming Medicare, claiming on his Web site that if people were put “back to work,” tax revenue from those additional workers would fully fund Medicare and Social Security.

Davis’ own candidacy further undermines national Democrats’ case that Hochul’s victory is a rejection of Republican reforms. Davis ran as a third party candidate under the Tea Party banner but had in fact run as a Democrat in 2004, 2006, and 2008. As a candidate in 2008, Davis endorsed Obama for president.

Davis also ran on many issues such as fiscal conservatism, private sector business success, and a strong dislike of both political parties, making him sound much like a real Tea Party candidate.

Polling also indicated that Davis siphoned off support from Corwin, underscoring the fact that Davis’ decision to call himself a Tea Party candidate cost Corwin support from conservatives.

According to a Siena University poll from May 18-20, only 66 percent of Corwin supporters were Republicans. Republicans made up 13 percent of Davis supporters, and independents made up 16 percent of Davis supporters.

Several of Hochul’s campaign ads claimed Ryan’s budget would “essentially end Medicare,” which is a false statement. Ryan’s budget would change how Medicare provides health care for the elderly.

If enacted, the Ryan budget would change Medicare from a single-payer insurance program into a private insurance-based system where the government would provide premium support payments to seniors, who had chosen from a variety of approved private insurance plans.

Rather than ending Medicare, as Hochul’s ads claimed, Ryan’s plan would change the system into one not unlike the Obamacare health care plan passed by congressional Democrats in 2010. Both plans would give out federal payments to help people buy a limited range of private health insurance plans. People currently aged 55 or older would not be affected by the Ryan reform.

Another Hochul ad claimed Ryan’s reform would turn Medicare “into a voucher system,” – another false statement. Ryan’s reform would use premium support payments, no vouchers.

Vouchers are payments made to individuals for the purpose of paying for a good or service. Ryan’s plan would not have the government sending seniors voucher payments. Instead, it would pay the insurance provider chosen by Medicare beneficiaries.

Corwin’s campaign also suffered from self-inflicted wounds. A video surfaced on May 11 showing Davis allegedly assaulting a cameraman after one of his campaign rallies. That cameraman turned out to be Corwin’s chief of staff, who had been shadowing Davis. Davis claimed that Corwin had sent the staffer to harass him.

Corwin originally denied having any knowledge of the incident but admitted later that the cameraman was in fact her chief of staff, claiming implausibly that he was acting purely as a private citizen and not as part of her campaign. The incident was used by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in attacks on Corwin.

Corwin was also heavily criticized by local media outlets for running apparently misleading ads attacking Hochul’s positions. Corwin ran an ad saying, “The truth is it's Hochul who says she would cut Social Security and Medicare.” In fact, Hochul actually said that “everything should be on the table” in budget-cut negotiations.

So, while national Democrats are claiming the special election victory was a repudiation of Republican efforts to reform Medicare, the fact remains that a fake Tea Party candidate, a stumbling Republican campaign, and false Democratic attacks were still not enough to deliver Democrats a majority of the votes.