Democrat Kathy Hochul pulled off a victory in New York's special election Tuesday in a race that had been cast as a referendum on the GOP's Medicare proposal.
The Associated Press called the race for Hochul at approximately 10 p.m. She had a six-point lead on Republican Jane Corwin, 48 percent to 42, with 71 percent of precincts reporting.
The district leans Republican and the race was expected to be a relatively easy win for the GOP.
But Democrats hammered away at the Medicare provision in Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) 2012 budget proposal, which called for turning the entitlement program into a voucher-like system.
Polls soon showed the race was in play, and both sides flooded the district with money and prominent party figures to campaign for the respective candidate.
Democrats immediately put out a statement Tuesday night touting Hochul's victory and crediting it to voter worries about Medicare.
“Kathy Hochul’s victory tonight is a tribute to Democrats’ commitment to preserve and strengthen Medicare, create jobs and grow our economy. And it sends a clear message that will echo nationwide: Republicans will be held accountable for their vote to end Medicare," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
"The Republican plan to end Medicare cost Republicans $3.4 million and a seat in Congress. And this is only the first seat," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said in a statement.
"Tonight’s election result is not just a victory for Congresswoman-elect Kathy Hochul, it’s a victory for the residents of Western New York and for Americans who believe that our elected leaders should fight to protect Medicare and ensure that our government works for our seniors, working families and young people," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
“There are two reasons we won tonight. Kathy Hochul is a great candidate and a Western New Yorker through and through. And New Yorkers of all political persuasions do not want to destroy Medicare. This election was a strong referendum on both," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
President Obama, however, made no mention of Medicare in his congratulatory statement.
"I want to extend my congratulations to Congresswoman-elect Kathy Hochul for her victory in New York's 26th congressional district. Kathy and I both believe that we need to create jobs, grow our economy and reduce the deficit in order to outcompete other nations and win the future. Kathy has shown, through her victory and throughout her career, that she will fight for the families and businesses in western New York, and I look forward to working with her when she gets to Washington," he said.
Republicans repeated the argument they used in the closing days of the race: that Davis's Independent bid siphoned votes from their candidate.
But National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) had another warning for Democrats.
“Republican Jane Corwin ran a hard-fought campaign against two well-funded Democrats, including one masquerading under the Tea Party name. Obviously, each side would rather win a special election than lose, but to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky. History shows one important fact: The results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general-election outcomes. If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010," he said.
Sessions was referring to the five special elections Democrats won in 2009, only to lose control of the House in the 2010 election.
The GOP budget, which is expected to come up for a Senate vote this week, will now likely be the campaign issue for Democrats. Only four Republicans voted against the proposal when it came up in the House in April; Corwin embraced the plan. Democrats subsequently hammered her on the issue, claiming she wanted to cut benefits for seniors.
Corwin, a state lawmaker, said she regretted not responding more forcefully to the charges.
“I probably would have addressed the Medicare message coming out of my opponent quicker,” she told reporters in Amherst on Tuesday. “I have to admit, when she started making these comments, I thought, ‘This is so outrageous, no one would ever believe it.’ Apparently some people did.”
The emergence of Medicare reform as an issue in the special election "changed the climate," presenting Democrats with an opportunity to capture the heavily Republican district, Israel said earlier Tuesday.
He also brushed off the suggestion that Davis played a spoiler role.
"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."
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. Some $10 million was spent on the special election in total.
The conservative group American Crossroads, which spent heavily on the race, said the special election was a "wake-up call."
"The debate over whether Medicare mattered more than a third-party candidate who split the Republican vote is mostly a partisan Rorschach Test. What is clear is that this election is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that 2012 will be just like 2010. It’s going to be a tougher environment, Democrats will be more competitive, and we need to play at the top of our game to win big next year," CEO Steven Law said in a statement.
Before the results came in, 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."
— This story was originally posted at 10:03 p.m. and updated at 11:13 p.m.
— Photos courtesy of The Batavian.