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New York special election goes down to the wire

May 23, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey and Lisa Mascaro
(Derek Gee/AP )

Party leaders in Washington are offering up their final spin before voters in New York’s 26th congressional district head to the polls Tuesday.

Depending on who’s doing the talking, the special election in western New York is either evidence of voters rejecting Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial Medicare overhaul or a fluky three-way race of little national significance.

In a call to reporters on Monday, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York offered the Democratic line, saying voter opposition to Ryan’s plan was driving nominee Kathy Hochul’s surge in the polls.

“Make no doubt about it, the issue moving the needle is Medicare,” Schumer said. “It’s causing a major realignment of independents in favor of Kathy.”

Schumer’s analysis was backed up by a Siena College poll released during the weekend. The poll showed Hochul had surged ahead of Republican Jane Corwin in recent weeks, while “tea party” candidate Jack Davis had slipped further behind.

The poll showed Hochul winning support from 44% of independents, up from 26% in late April. Meanwhile, Davis’ support among that group had dropped from 27% to 16%.

Hochul has been pounding Corwin on her support for Ryan’s proposal, which would change Medicare to a voucher-type system. Corwin says the changes are needed to save the program from bankruptcy. Both candidates and their allies have spent millions on advertising on the issue. It was the top-ranked issue for voters in the Siena poll, although it was closely followed by jobs and the deficit.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) acknowledged Monday that the race in the reliably Republican district was “a lot closer than anyone had thought.” But he blamed Davis for drawing Republican votes away from Corwin, not disapproval of GOP plans for Medicare.

“This race is about the fact that it’s a three-way race,” Cantor told reporters. “I do not think it can be seen as the signal as to the role of the budget reforms that we have proposed including that and Medicare.”

Indeed, if all of Davis’ support went to Corwin, she would win easily. And Hochul’s 42% in the Siena poll is not an unheard-of level of support for a Democrat in that district. In 2008, the Democratic nominee won 40% of the vote while losing to Republican Chris Lee. (Lee went on to send photos of himself shirtless to a woman he met on Craigslist and then resigned.)

Still, it’s hard to argue that voters in the district aren’t thinking differently than they did just seven months ago. In the November GOP landslide, Lee won 74% of the vote and Democratic nominee came away with just 26%.

That’s the election Cantor wants people to focus on.

“I know this town loves to take signals from individual races. I think the best signal you can take is the 63 seats that we picked up in November,” he said. “That was a signal that the American people were tired of the direction being taken by the other side, they were upset about the situation with jobs, and they were upset about government spending. I think those issues are still front and center with the voters and especially those in western New York.”

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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