“If you care about Medicare and want to keep Medicare as it is, she’s your person,” Schumer, the Democrats’ message man in Washington, said as he introduced diners to Democrat Kathy Hochul. “Her opponent wants to just dismantle it.”
At the next table: “If you’re gonna have Medicare one of these days, she’s fighting to keep it.”
And the next: “Her opponent will change it so you wouldn’t even recognize it.”
This, Democrats believe, is how Hochul just might do what seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago: win in one of the nation’s more inhospitable places for Democrats.
This is also the formula Democrats plan to use next year, when Republicans will face voters for the first time after backing a plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would turn Medicare into a private voucher system.
Changing Medicare, the centerpiece of Ryan’s plan, is deeply unpopular across the country, according to public polls. The backlash to it in this economically struggling district, where registered voters are older than the national average, has turned an unusual three-way race into a dead heat.
Thus, what happens here ahead of the May 24 election will set the terms for both parties’ campaign playbooks heading into the 2012 battle for control of the House and Senate.
Aware of the stakes, the national parties have poured money into the race, outside groups are flooding local airwaves, and Democratic and Republican leaders are taking an active role.
Ryan recently sent a plea to his supporters to raise money for Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin, the Republican candidate. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) hosted a fundraiser for Corwin here. And House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) appeared at a Hochul fundraiser in Manhattan on Friday night.
‘A line in the sand’
Corwin said that she would have voted for Ryan’s budget and that Medicare needs to fundamentally change if it is to remain solvent.
“If you don’t do this, Medicare is going to go bankrupt by 2024,” Corwin said in an interview. “If we ignore it like Kathy Hochul wants to do, it’ll run out of money. . . . Actually, she’s the one who’s advocating for eliminating Medicare because she’s saying don’t do anything.”
Diane Few, 56, a Republican, said she is worried about any cuts to Medicare benefits but would vote for Corwin. “If you just listen to the newscasts, she’s going to delete Medicare,” Few said. “But I trust her. I sure hope it’s not true because I’m getting up there.”