In all the discussion about whether Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would be a great veep pick for Mitt Romney, no one is talking about the May 2011 special election in the 26th congressional district in New York. Ryan’s budget, which would turn Medicare into a voucher system, was the centerpiece of that campaign — and it cost the Republicans that seat.
The election was called after Chris Lee, a married Republican congressman just elected to his second term, was caught trolling for sex on Craiglist with the help of shirtless pictures. Anyway, the race pitted Republican Jane Corwin against Democrat Kathy Hochul. And, as The New Republic reported, Hochul started hammering away at the Ryan plan and Corwin’s support of it the moment the legislation passed the House on April 15.
The New York 26th district was considered a safe Republican seat. No Democrat had won it since 1992 and that fella was the first since 1952. Also, the GOP had an advantage of more than 26,000 registered voters. But Hochul beat Corwin 47 percent to 43 percent.
“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,” E. J. Dionne wrote in a blog post the night of Hochul’s victory. “Democrats should be very grateful that Ryan put his plan together, and that House Speaker John Boehner forced Republicans to vote on it.”
Ryan’s budget wasn’t exactly popular with Republicans. Five Senators voted against it when it came up for a vote in May. GOPers seeking office this November are keeping their distance. Last year, Newt Gingrich called the Ryan plan “right-wing social engineering.” And then there was this comment from Donald Trump from an interview with him in his Trump Tower office last September.
“I ike Paul Ryan personally, but I didn’t like his, before his seat is even warm, coming out with a plan that was going to hurt Medicare, at best,” Trump said. He called it “a very bad . . . chess move” that cost Republicans the House seat in New York’s 26th District.“I watched a popular Republican woman [Jane Corwin] not only lose but get schlonged by a Democrat [Kathy Hochul] nobody ever heard of for the congressional seat and that was because, simply, because of the Paul Ryan plan,” Trump noted. “That was an attack on Medicare. Now he’s trying to soften it, but whether you like it or not, that was an attack on Medicare.
There is no doubt Ryan is a star in the Republican party. He is unafraid to put controversial ideas up for scrutiny. But Ryan as Romney’s vice presidential running mate would be like the Ryan budget: as problematic as it is bold for Republicans. It cost them NY-26. And it could cost them and Romney the White House.
[Correction, 2:35 p.m., Aug. 8: The representative who resigned was not Chris Smith, as originally written, but Chris Lee. Rep. Smith (R-N.J.) continues to serve. The text above has been changed.]