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Paul Ryan blames Democrats for distorting Medicare plan in N.Y. election loss

May 25, 2011|By James Oliphant and Kathleen Hennessey | Washington Bureau
(Harry Scull Jr. / Associated…)

Reeling from a loss in what was considered a safe congressional district, Republicans insisted Wednesday that Democrat Kathy Hochul’s victory in western New York was a fluke and not a sign that voters are restless over the party’s aggressive stance on Medicare.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the architect of a GOP plan that would radically overhaul the entitlement program, blamed Hochul and Democratic groups for misrepresenting the budget proposal in the course of Hochul’s campaign against Republican Jane Corwin.

"There is a Medicare story to be told here and that Medicare story is that Democrats have chosen to shamelessly distort and demagogue the issue to try to scare seniors," Ryan said in an interview Wednesday. "And in short-term elections, they can be successful in scaring seniors and confusing seniors. We have a year and half to get the facts out.”

Fears over Medicare appear to have played some role in the race. According to a poll conducted late last week by Siena College, the issue was prominent in the minds of voters, with 21% saying it was the “single most important” issue to them.

During Hochul’s victory speech Tuesday evening in Williamsville, N.Y., the crowd chanted “Medicare, Medicare,” according to CNN.

President Obama released a statement late Tuesday praising Hochul.

“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,” Obama said.  “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.”

While Obama did not mention Medicare, other Democrats signaled they stand ready to make Ryan’s plan the core element of the party’s message going forward.

“The implications of this election extend to Senate races in battleground states and red states across the country,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The results provide clear evidence that Democratic senators and Senate candidates will be able to play offense across the country by remaining focused on the Republican effort to end Medicare and force seniors to pay thousands more for healthcare costs."

Murray and the Democrats are defending more than 20 Senate seats in 2012, with several in GOP-leaning states such as Missouri, Montana and Nebraska.

Ryan and the Republicans contend the presence of third-party candidate Jack Davis drained support from Corwin, creating an opening for Hochul in a district that has traditionally leaned toward the GOP. The seat was held for years by Jack Kemp.

But at least one GOP group said Hochul’s win should force the Republicans to realize that the heady days of the 2010 elections are over.

“The debate over whether Medicare mattered more than a third-party candidate who split the Republican vote is mostly a partisan Rorschach test,” said Steven Law, president of American Crossroads, a Republican political advocacy organization that buys airwave advertising time.

“What is clear is that this election is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that 2012 will be just like 2010,” Law said.  “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."

In 2010, Republicans took more than 60 seats in House, running, among other things, on Medicare, contending that seniors would see benefit cuts under the Democratic healthcare overhaul.

Ryan revived that line of attack Wednesday. "When [voters] realize that our plan actually preserves the system for people 55 and above, the president’s plan raids Medicare and puts a rationing board in charge of the program, I think they’re going to be upset that they’ve been lied to," he said.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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