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.
The GOP can’t claim that Republican Jane Corwin lost because of a vote split with Tea Party candidate Jack Davis. With 87 percent of the precincts in, Hochul had 48 percent to Corwin’s 42 percent. Davis got just 9 percent, and the Green Party candidate picked up 1 percent. Let’s assume Hochul drops a point when the missing precints, which are mostly from Republican areas, are in. Republicans can’t claim that all of the votes that went to Davis, a former Democrat, would have gone to Corwin.
[UPDATE, May 25, 9:10 AM: With more than 99 percent of the precincts counted, here are the totals: Kathy Hochul (D) 48,530 votes, 47 percent; Jane Corwin (R) 43,836, 43 percent; Jack Davis, Tea Party, 9,495, 9 percent; Ian Murphy (Green) 1,130, 9 percent. As I thought they would last night, late returns brought Hochul down a point, but the analysis stands: Given how close Hochul got to 50 percent, Republicans can’t blame Tea Party candidate Jack Davis for this outcome. To win, Corwin would have had to get about three-quarters of the Davis vote - and that assumes all those Davis voters would have gone to the polls if he had not been on the ballot. And it’s hard to imagine many of the Green Party candidate’s votes going Republican. If you assume that three quarters of the Green votes would have gone to Hochul, that increases the share of Davis’ vote that Corwin needed to win to somewhere around 80 percent. Bottom line: Paul Ryan and Medicare had a whole lot more to do with this result than Jack Davis did.]
Hochul getting this close to half the vote is astonishing in a district where in 2010 the Democratic candidate got just 26 percent of the vote. Even in the very good Democratic year of 2008, the Democratic nominee got just 40.5 percent. To get a sense of how this result might extrapolate elsewhere, look at very Republican Wyoming County. Hochul lost it, as President Obama did in 2008. But Hochul matched Obama’s 36 percent share of the vote. If every Democratic House candidate in 2012 could reach Obama’s 2008 vote share, Democrats would be back in control by a substantial margin.
Of course, all the usual caveats apply: It’s a long time to November 2012; this is just one special election; special elections offer voters relatively cost-free opportunities to cast protest ballots; and such elections aren’t always a good guide to the future. But some of them are. Scott Brown’s victory in January 2010 in Massachusetts was a harbinger of the big Republican gains that came in November. Brown ran against the Democratic health-care plan. Hochul ran against the Republican Medicare plan. Brown mobilized angry conservatives and restive moderates. Hochul mobilized angry progressives and restive moderates.
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.
Finally, let it be said that Hochul simply ran a very good campaign -- good enough to survive an outpouring of outside money and to win over a large number of Republicans and independents without whose ballots she would have lost. When national analysts are looking for big national trends in particular races, they don’t usually give much credit to the candidate who actually wins. Ryan had a lot to do with this result, but so did Hochul.