Dem campaign chief: Medicare 'changed the climate' in NY-26

The emergence of Medicare reform as an issue in the New York special election "changed the climate," presenting Democrats with an opportunity to capture the heavily Republican district, according to Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The House GOP's budget plan converts Medicare to a type of voucher system for those currently under the age of 55 as a way to rein in costs. Instead of government-run Medicare, seniors would buy private insurance and the government would foot some of the bill.

Only four Republicans voted against the proposal when it came up in the House in April, and Jane Corwin, the GOP nominee in the 26th district, embraced the plan.

"Whether the Democrat is elected or not, Medicare changed the climate in that district," Israel told The Ballot Box.

Two recent polls showed Democratic nominee Kathy Hochul with a slim lead coming into Tuesday's vote, but top Republicans insisted that should she win, it cannot be interpreted as a vote against the Ryan budget proposal.

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"No, not at all," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters on Monday. "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."

Polls of the race have shown Independent candidate Jack Davis, who is running on the Tea Party line but has previously sought office as a Democrat and as a Republican, getting close to 12 percent of the vote.

"This isn't about a three-way race," said Israel. "This is about three issues: Medicare, Medicare and Medicare. Independents and seniors, if you look at the polling, are voting for the Democrat and when you ask them why, they say Medicare."

"The Republicans are spinning furiously and I don't blame them," he added. "The fact that Republicans had to put in three and a half million dollars in one of the most Republican districts in the country doesn't bode well for Republicans in better districts in the country."

Conservative groups invested about $1.36 million in the race, while Corwin raised and spent more than $3.2 million, with 84 percent of that sum being her own personal funds, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Israel said Democrats would likely reprise their Medicare messaging strategy in other competitive House races next year.

"We said from the moment the gavel came down on the Republican plan to end Medicare, we said we would hold them accountable in every district we could. And we served notice on the Republicans in New York 26," he said.

Ryan said he wasn't surprised Democrats had focused on the Medicare issue.

"Democrats have made it clear they were interested in medi-scare, scaring seniors," he told The Ballot Box. "And they're doubling down on that."

Ryan said a victory for Hochul in Tuesday's race wouldn't dampen enthusiasm in the GOP House Conference for his budget proposal.

"No, I don't think so," Ryan said. "It just shows that they want to scare seniors and I don't think it's going to last. I think seniors are going to see through this, I think people are going to see through it."