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N.Y. race heats up: Democrats test message on GOP plan to 'end Medicare'

In a special congressional election for New York's solidly Republican 26th District, the Democrat says her GOP foe would back Paul Ryan's plan to 'end Medicare.' The parties are taking notice.

By Staff writer / May 13, 2011

Democratic candidate for the 26th District Congressional seat Kathy Hochul accepts a pair of boxing gloves from Max Richtman, left, of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, during a news conference in Clarence, N.Y. Monday.

David Duprey/AP

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Washington

The special congressional election in New York on May 24 should have been a sleepy affair. The 26th District, in the western part of the state, is solidly Republican, and is likely to disappear anyway in the 2012 election due to redistricting.

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But the Democrat, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, has the Republicans running scared, as she pounds Republican state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin over Washington Republicans’ plan to fundamentally change Medicare. If Ms. Hochul pulls off an upset, watch the Democratic candidates duplicate her message across the country.

“Jane Corwin said she would vote for the 2012 Republican budget that would essentially end Medicare,” a Hochul ad warns darkly.

The ad is referring to the plan put forth by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan that would end Medicare as a fee-for-service program and instead give seniors a fixed sum to purchase insurance on the private market. Democrats say that over time, the vouchers would not keep up with the rising cost of insurance. Republican members of Congress have faced angry constituents at town hall meetings over the plan.

Third candidate a big factor

But in fact, analysts say, the bigger factor in the NY-26 race threatening Assemblywoman Corwin is the presence of a third-party candidate, businessman Jack Davis, who got himself listed on the ballot as a “Tea Party” candidate. Mr. Davis has run for the seat three previous times as a Democrat, and he has little organized tea party support. But polls show he is siphoning more support away from Corwin than from Hochul.

The recent Siena Research Institute poll puts Corwin at 36 percent, Hochul at 31 percent, and Davis at 23 percent.

“Davis is kind of anti-Washington, anti-major parties, so that does resonate with a lot of tea party people,” says James Campbell, political science chair at the University at Buffalo. “If Jack Davis were out of the race, I don’t think the Medicare issue would be making this close.”

Davis’s populist message – he opposes free trade – and regular-guy demeanor, despite his wealth, contrasts with his well-groomed and highly managed opponents, says Mr. Campbell.

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