It's risky to read too much into Kathy Hochul's upset victory in a special congressional election in western New York on Tuesday — it was, after all, just one race. Still, Hochul's fellow Democrats are touting the outcome as a voter rebellion against the House Republican plan to transform Medicare into a subsidy program for private health coverage. If the election prompts Republicans to rethink that plan, that would be a welcome development. But it shouldn't persuade lawmakers to abandon efforts to rein in Medicare costs.
Hochul's rural and suburban district has been sending Republicans to Congress for decades, usually by lopsided margins. After a scandalized Rep. Christopher Lee stepped down earlier this year, the GOP shoo-in seemed to be Jane Corwin, a relatively new member of the state Assembly. But Corwin encountered two unexpected hurdles: Jack Davis, a successful local businessman who ran as a third-party candidate, and the plan advanced by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to cut Washington's share of the cost of providing healthcare to seniors.
Some GOP analysts downplayed the significance of the Medicare issue, arguing that Davis cost Corwin the election by attracting almost 10% of the votes. But a recent poll showed that Davis' populist, protectionist campaign attracted support from Democrats as well as Republicans. Exit polls also showed that Hochul's relentless attacks on the Ryan plan struck a chord with some Republicans, who feared the loss of "Medicare as we know it."