Okay, so Democrats are celebrating the special election victory in New York’s 26th, a district that is about as red as it gets in the northeast. And well they should. Despite Republican claims that the Tea Party candidate split the conservative vote – which is a little hard to do when one candidate gets 42% of the vote and the other one gets 9% - the writing is clearly on the wall. The Paul Ryan budget was the major reason for Jane Corwin’s defeat. Pure and simple. No other conclusion is possible given the facts.
Consider the following. Jack Davis – the Tea Party candidate – ran as a Democrat in ’08 and ’06. Assuming that, had he not run, all of his votes would’ve gone to Corwin is the height of arrogance, and quite simply ignores the polling data which suggests that he took just as many votes away from winner Kathy Hochul as he did Corwin. At best, conservatives can say Corwin might’ve gotten 55% of his votes, still not enough to overcome the six-point spread between herself and Hochul.
When you add the fact that the RNC spent well over $1 million to defend a district that should never have been in play in the first place, there’s no other way to put it: this was a bad day in GOP land. There are precious few districts in the country where either major political party can safely boast invincibility. The New York 26 was just such a district for Republicans. And now it is gone. Don't think for a moment that they are not burning the midnight oil at the RNC looking for delicate way to extricate themselves out of the quagmire that the Ryan budget has put them in. Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
But while the GOP is caught in the middle of its own toxic waste dump of political misfortune, I’m getting that sinking feeling again with respect to our dear progressive friends. To quote Jon Stewart, “How will Democrats screw this up?” Let’s see if Nancy Pelosi can answer Mr. Stewart’s rhetorical question.
“Kathy Hochul's victory tonight is a tribute to Democrats' commitment to preserve and strengthen Medicare, create jobs, and grow our economy.”
Yep, that did it. Just so we’re clear on what happened in the 26th. Kathy Hochul did not win anything; Jane Corwin committed political suicide. Period, end of discussion. For Democrats to engage in any kind of celebratory pronouncements that don’t begin and end with the words “Thank you” is moronic. The simple truth of the matter is that had Paul Ryan not decided to become Captain Courageous and had Jane Corwin simply kept her mouth shut and waved a few American flags, the 26th would still be red today. Even now the overwhelming majority of the district remains fervently conservative. Their votes were decidedly anti-Republican far more than they were pro-Democrat.
Democratic claims that they have somehow turned the tide of discontent away from them and squarely onto the Republicans based on one special election is premature at best and ignorant at worst. Yes, Republicans have gone completely overboard – as was expected – with their far-Right ideology, and yes, by doing so, they have lost many independent voters; voters they will desperately need in 2012. But Democrats still have not constructed a narrative to win over an electorate that is still wary of them. The Senate hangs precariously by a thread with no fewer than 23 Democratic seats up for grabs against only 10 for Republicans. Unless Democrats can give voters a reason to vote for them that doesn’t include the gross negligence of their opponents, they will face a difficult task holding the majority.
Assuming that Obama wins reelection – and right now all the polls show him significantly ahead of every GOP candidate except Mitt Romney – it is not completely unreasonable to see Republicans with a slightly weakened but still formidable majority in the House along with a respectable majority in the Senate come 2013. Every day that Democrats assume that they can waltz back into power without having to do anything to earn it is another day they spend deluding themselves.
Yes, Olympia Snow, Scott Brown and the rest of the Senate Republicans who had the good sense to vote “no” on the Ryan budget when Harry Reid brought it to the floor, will face tough challenges by the Tea Party next year, and, yes, some of them will lose. But when you do the math, the hurdle for Democrats is far greater than it is for Republicans.
All the more reason to stop pussyfooting around and get down to the business at hand. Yes, it was nice to steal one for a change, but stealing is what this was, nothing more, nothing less. Next time, Republicans won’t be so easy. You can count on that.