All of Washington will be watching New York on Tuesday, where a Democratic win in the special election could have national implications for the Republican Party.
The special election for former Rep. Chris Lee’s (R) seat has been cast as a referendum on the GOP’s budget proposal and given both parties a chance to test campaign themes ahead of the 2012 election.
Polls show Democrat Kathy Hochul leading in the Republican-leaning district, although the race remains tight.
If she prevails, her victory would give Democrats a rallying cry against the Ryan plan and an issue to campaign on next year. And it would give Republicans cause to worry as the 2012 budget negotiations begin and their members look to secure reelection. Only four GOP House members voted against the Ryan plan in March.
With so much at stake, it has been all hands on deck for both sides.
The parties’ campaign committees and several outside groups have poured money into the race. National political figures from both sides of the aisle have campaigned for their respective party’s nominee.
Interest groups and party committees have spent almost $2 million on ads, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which is tracking spending in the race. Much of that money has gone toward advertising on the Medicare issue.
Republican nominee Jane Corwin has embraced Ryan’s budget. Democrats and their allies said her stance amounts to supporting cuts to the program.
Meanwhile, Republicans have sought to cast Hochul as an ally of President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Former President Clinton was the latest to mention Medicare on Monday, bringing it up twice in a 30-second call to supporters in the district, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won by six percentage points in the 2008 presidential race.
“You can count on Kathy to say no to partisan politics that would end Medicare as we know it to pay for more tax cuts for multimillionaires,” Clinton said on the call, which was paid for by the Democratic National Committee.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have made robo-calls for Corwin. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has campaigned for her.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) insisted Monday that a loss for Corwin should not be interpreted as a vote against the Ryan budget proposal.
“No, not at all,” he said.
The No. 2 House Republican, who campaigned for Corwin recently in Rochester, told reporters “this is about the fact that it's a three-way race; [Corwin] is facing a three-way race that has tended to make the race a lot closer than anyone thought, but no, I do not think it can be seen as a signal as to the role of the budget reforms that we have proposed.”
Republicans have insisted that the presence of Independent candidate Jack Davis, a former Democrat who is running on the Tea Party line, would hurt Corwin.
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who oversaw several special-election campaigns during his time as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the Democrats will be tempted to “over-read the tea leaves” if Hochul wins.
“If the Democrats win this, they will think this is a victory on the Medicare message,” he said.
The party would likely take a “harder line” on any budget deal as a result, he added. “I think it makes a budget deal even harder” to reach.
A Public Policy Polling survey released late Sunday showed Hochul with a six-point lead over Corwin. Hochul had 42 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Corwin, while 13 percent went to Davis.
Hochul also led in a Siena College poll released over the weekend. In that survey, 42 percent said they would vote for the Democrat, while 38 percent said they would vote for Corwin — a lead that was only slightly outside the survey's margin of error. Davis earned 12 percent in the Siena poll.
Steven Greenberg, a pollster for Siena College, said Hochul is seen as the more likable candidate by those polled.
“In the last three weeks, Corwin’s favorability rating fell considerably, she’s now underwater and Hochul’s favorability rating actually increased,” Greenberg said. “Voters have been able to get a lot of education, and clearly that has moved a significant number of voters to feel less positive about Corwin and more positive about Hochul.”
Davis’s support is also migrating to Hochul, he noted.
“We’ve also seen the third-party candidate basically fold in half,” he said. “The support that Davis had three weeks ago has been cut in half, and Hochul appears to have picked up the lion’s share.”
Greenberg said it was too easy to say voters simply responded to the Democrats’ messaging on Medicare.
“The voters have looked at the three candidates and have made a decision on who do they think can best represent them, their families, their communities in Washington. Who will do the best job for them?” he said.
One thing is clear, Greenberg said. Voters are expecting a close result Tuesday.
—Molly K. Hooper contributed to this report.
—Photos courtesy of Buffalo News.