Democrats Spinning New York Special Election Results

If New York Tea Party candidate Davis hadn't split the vote, Jane Corwin would have easily won.

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The New York Times’ Gail Collins calls it the “ Democratic Happy Dance”—that breathless, gleeful coverage of the Democrats’ win in the special election held this week in New York’s 26th Congressional District. Charlie Cooks suggests that perhaps some decaf would be in order, and I couldn’t agree more. The left is trying to portray the win as a repudiation of the Ryan Medicare plan that puts Democrats back in the speaker’s chair by 2012, but let’s take a look at what the mainstream media is not reporting:

First, here are the actual results: Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul won with 47 percent of the vote, GOP candidate Jane Corwin got 43 percent, and “Tea Party” candidate Jack Davis came in with 9 percent. Clearly, Davis’s attacks on Hochul split the Republican vote, which would have been 52 percent if you add Davis and Corwin’s together. This is less than other statewide Republican candidates have won recently, but it would have been enough to defeat Hochul, and it would have been a majority of voters, which, let’s remember, Hochul did not garner. Why the media didn’t pick up this narrative—that the much-feared Tea Party is drawing votes away from GOP candidates—is a surprise to me. Instead, they’ve all jumped on the Medicare bandwagon instead.

[Read: New York Special Election Medicare Fight Enters Spin Mode.]

Michael Barone blames the New York GOP establishment for continuing to pick losing candidates in the last three special elections:

Under New York law, candidates in special elections are nominated by county party leaders, and in all three recent New York special elections the party leaders chose a member of the New York Assembly. All three lost. Polls show that New York voters have a particularly low regard for their state legislature ... Assembly Republicans are a particularly forlorn group, since they are hugely outnumbered (100-48 after the 2010 election). There must be some smart Assembly Republicans, but serving in a heavily outnumbered party in a chamber dominated by one individual during sessions that place take in Albany in the winter—well, let’s just say it doesn’t sound like the most attractive job for a politically talented individual. Memo to New York Republican county leaders: next time you have a special election, nominate someone who is not a member of the Assembly.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

So, Jane Corwin was not the best candidate for the job, and my sense is that an earlier defense of the Ryan plan would have turned the vote around. Instead, she sat on her hands and didn’t respond to Hochul’s attacks until the final weeks of the campaign. There’s no need for Republicans to drop the Ryan plan—I still believe that voters will reward political courage in the long run—but they could have done a better job helping Corwin sell the plan to voters. Republicans need to point out that the Democrats’ plan is to simply do nothing and allow the status quo to take Medicare into bankruptcy. There’s no need to demagogue when the truth is on your side.