Voters like Medicare

Contrary to Republican spin, last week’s special election in New York’s 26th congressional district isn’t an isolated result based on local issues. No, it’s a harbinger of what Republicans will face in 2012: the exact opposite of 2010.

But that hasn’t stopped the GOP excuse factory.

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Republicans lost because of a spoiler Tea Party candidate! It’s true, Democrat Kathy Hochul won with just 48 percent of the vote. But you can’t add the Republican votes to those of Tea Party candidate Jack Davis and declare that 52 percent of the vote was conservative. Pre-election polls by Public Policy Polling and Siena College found that at least a third of Davis’s vote was Democratic. And as he bled support in the waning days of the election, his lost support clearly flowed to Hochul. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that Davis ran as on the Democratic ticket the last three election cycles.

Moreover, even if the Republicans had managed to win this thing with 52 percent of the vote, it still would’ve been a disastrous result. After all, Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino won the district with over 60 percent of the vote in 2010 — while losing the state of New York with just 34 percent of the statewide vote.

New York-26 is a swing district! No, it’s not. This area has only seen Democratic representation three times in the last 100 years. It was one of just four districts in New York that voted for John McCain over Obama in the 2008 Democratic landslide year. It liked Paladino when no one else in New York did. 

There are nearly 100 Republican-held seats less conservative than this one, giving Democrats a veritable smorgasbord of pickup opportunities.

You can’t take much away from a special election! It’s true, Democrats won some hard-fought special elections in 2009, only to lose the 2010 elections badly. However, those Democratic victories were built on bizarre local dynamics, like the Tea Party uprising forcing Republican Dede Scozzafava out of the race in New York’s 23rd congressional district, causing Scozzafava to endorse the Democrat. 

The fact is, Kathy Hochul made the special election in the 26th a referendum on the GOP’s approach to Medicare, and the results were unambiguous. People like Medicare, whether they’re Democrats, independents or Republicans.

Paul Ryan and his assault on Medicare are a godsend to the Democrats, a true GOP own-goal. While many Democrats were sacrificed for their vote for healthcare reform, at least the legislation passed. Ryan’s crusade to destroy Medicare was quixotic at best — it was never going to pass the Senate or White House. Now Republicans have given Democrats a potent issue to run on, an issue with traction even in conservative districts like New York’s 26th.

At the same time, the ham-fisted assaults on the nation’s most popular government programs have re-energized a Democratic base that sat out the 2010 elections. While Obama lost the 26th by six points in 2008, pre-election polling suggested that those planning on voting opted for Obama by five points — an 11-point intensity swing. Last year, we saw swings that large in the GOP’s direction in Wisconsin and Florida, places where Republicans made some of their biggest and most dramatic gains. 

Republicans can pretend that the 26th is an anomaly. Hopefully, they actually believe it. Because the more they cling to the Ryan budget, the better the chances to see the return of Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2012.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos.