Oh boy, now the Republicans are in trouble. Politico reported: “In the only House race that really mattered to both parties. . . . the Republicans failed spectacularly, losing on a level playing field, where in this favorable environment, they should have run roughshod over the opposition.” Tuesday’s special election in New York? No, that was the report from May 2010 on the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district. To be blunt, Republicans stink at special elections and have lost a few high-profile ones. (Remember the NY-20 debacle in 2009?) Tuesday was no exception.

The Post reported:

Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul won a House special election in western New York on Tuesday night, a Democratic triumph in a conservative district that many consider a referendum on House Republicans’ efforts to reform Medicare.

With three-quarters of precincts reporting, Hochul had 48 percent of the vote. State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (R) had 42 percent, with independent candidate Jack Davis running a distant third with 8 percent.

Democrats are high-fiving, certain that Medicare is now the killer issue for 2012 (and indifferent to the presence of a third-party candidate). I rather doubt it, and not because the New York state Republican party is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. As the Cook Report’s David Wasserman put it recently, “The three-way dynamic in NY-26 is simply more proof that special elections are mutant species. No two of the recent competitive special elections in NY-26, HI-01, PA-12, NY-23, or NY-20 have been exactly alike; their only commonality is that they held very little larger predictive value.”

Try as Democrats might to deny it, 2012 will be a referendum on the president; all elections with an incumbent president are. It will boil down to President Obama’s performance jobs, economic growth and the debt. Having failed to perform on all three so far, Obama will have his hands full.

Obama and the Democrats seem to be counting on scaring voters one more time. The hitch is that their “big idea” here (after the last “big idea,” that killing Osama bin Laden assured Obama’s re-election, went down the tubes) is to insist the unsustainable current Medicare program is sustainable; voters understand this is hogwash. “Medicare as we know it” won’t be here, no matter what. The current fee-for-service, government-pays-all-the bills system cannot go on as is, as every responsible party, including the president’s debt commission, has made clear. The Democrats remain determined to insist otherwise.

As we get closer to the 2012 election, and the fiscal train wreck becomes more and more vivid, the “Republicans want to kill granny” gambit is going to seem rather weak. But for the Democrats, no reed is too thin to cling to.