Next Tuesday Republican Jane Corwin, Democrat Kathy Hochul and independent Jack Davis will be the names on the ballot in the special election in New York’s 26th district.

But, the race to replace former Rep. Chris Lee (R) in the Upstate New York seat has rapidly developed into a proxy fight between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wisc.).

The National Republican Congressional Committee is up with a television ad today that attacks Hochul and Davis as puppets of Pelosi — literally.

“Jack and Kathy....they can’t fight for us,” says the ad’s narrator as a picture of Pelosi manipulating the two candidate-puppets appears on screen. “They come with strings attached”.

Even as Republicans hit Pelosi, Democrats are working to turn Ryan into a major negative for Corwin.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee went up with ads last week that hammered Corwin for supporting a budget that “essentially ends Medicare”.

The reference is, of course, to the budget passed by the Republican-controlled Congress last month that would turn Medicare into a voucher program.

House Majority PAC, a Democratic-aligned super political action committee, is set to go up with ads of its own on Tuesday that take take after Corwin for -- you guessed it! -- her support of the Ryan budget.

The Republican strategy of attacking Pelosi is nothing new. During the 2010 election, the NRCC ran scads of ads in districts all across the country seeking to link Democratic candidates to the then Speaker. GOP strategists insist that the ads will work again this year because Pelosi remains well known and unpopular among independents and swing voters.

For Democrats, the Medicare hit is new — a political gift, they believe handed to them by the newly-minted Republican House majority. Medicare has long been an off-the-table issue for both parties due to the negative political consequences — particularly among older voters — that come with attempting to restructure it in any way.

If Democrats can successfully drag down Corwin, who has never served a day in Congress, with attacks on the Ryan budget then Republican incumbents who actually voted for the legislation should start worrying about their future political prospects.

Quality polling in the special election is scarce but judging from how much the national parties and their aligned groups are spending on the race it’s likely to be quite close.

It’s worth noting that the tendency in special elections is to overanalyze what the result means for the broader political fight. That goes double for this race because of the presence of Davis — a wildly unpredictable self funder who is running as a tea party candidate after making three bids for the seat as a Democrat last decade.

That said, it’s clear that both national parties are using the New York special as a testing ground for their 2012 messages. And that makes the next week all the more fascinating.

Ryan to decide on Senate soon: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is expected to make a decision very soon on whether to run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn have talked to him about running, but Republican strategists doubt that he will he will.

If he runs, Ryan could avoid a serious primary. If he doesn’t run, former Gov. Tommy Thompson is expected to get into the race and a serious primary is very likely.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Kind are both expected to run. Whether former Sen. Russ Feingold will join them is still unclear.

Newt Gingrich and Medicare: On “Meet the Press” yesterday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan “too big a jump” and “right-wing social engineering.” But a Gingrich spokesperson told the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack that there is “little daylight” between Gingrich and the Wisconsin Republican.

“Newt would fully support Ryan if it were not compulsory,” Rick Tyler said. “Radical means that politically you can’t get to what Ryan wants from where we are. ... Right wing social engineer[ing] refers simply to compelling people to participate with[out] giving them a choice. That is a political mistake.”

Gingrich has not been entirely consistent on this issue. A few weeks ago, the 2012 presidential candidate told TIME magazine that he would have voted for Ryan’s plan. Hours later, he wrote in a Facebook post that he would “allow seniors to choose ... a more personal system with greater options for better care.” That seems to be in line with the proposal put forward by former Congressional Budget Office director Alice Rivlin (D) and former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) which would allow seniors to choose private insurance or stay in traditional Medicare if they paid a bigger share of rising costs.

Gingrich is kicking off his tour of Iowa in Dubuque today, where he will speak to the Kiwanis Club about health care.


NBC has scheduled a new season of “Celebrity Apprentice.” The network is hoping to have Donald Trump back, but they’re ready to replace him should he actually run for president.

Republicans are looking to Rhode Island as a model for Medicaid cuts.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is back in Florida to watch her husband go up in the space shuttle Endeavour.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been passed over for a Senate Budget Committee spot in favor of fellow freshman Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)

Must Reads:

Jenny Sanford’s warning for 2012 presidential wives” - Lois Romano, The Daily Beast

Rep. Bachmann: Always rising, never compromising” - Brian Bakst, AP

Which Mitch should Republicans expect?” - Christopher Rants, Sioux City Journal