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Can House race in New York alter budget fight on Capitol Hill?

Democrats hope that a win in New York's 26th District on Tuesday would signal to GOP lawmakers that the public rejects their austerity plan for coping with national debt and the deficit.

By Staff writer / May 23, 2011

Candidates for New York's 26th Congressional District, Republican Jane Corwin (l.) and Democrat Kathy Hochul, participate in a debate at the WGRZ studios on May 12.

Derek Gee/Buffalo News/AP

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Washington

The plot has thickened going into Tuesday's special election in a western New York congressional district, where polls show the Democratic candidate has surged ahead of the former GOP front-runner, amid a fierce contest centered mainly on the future of Medicare.

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The three-way race in New York’s 26th Congressional District is being characterized, especially by Democrats, as a referendum on the GOP proposal to replace Medicare with subsidies for seniors to buy private health insurance. The district has long been a Republican stronghold, and Democrats in Washington are hoping that a win there Tuesday would convince Republican lawmakers that the public rejects their strict austerity plan for dealing with the national debt and the deficit.

Weekend polls gave Democrat Kathy Hochul an edge over Republican Jane Corwin, who is now running four to six percentage points behind. Ms. Corwin, a state Assembly member, had been running four to six points ahead of Ms. Horchul, the Erie County clerk, as recently as late April. Former Democrat Jack Davis, running as a tea party candidate, is double-digits behind in the latest poll and is winning mainly Republican votes. Tea party activists say he is not one of them and is running as a spoiler.

The race is the first major contest since the Republican-led House approved the fiscal 2012 budget plan crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin – without a single Democratic vote. That plan, which includes the controversial Medicare provision, will come up for a vote this week in the Democratic-led Senate, where it is expected to fail.

A defeat of that budget bill in the Senate – and an upset defeat in New York of a GOP candidate who backs that plan – would help build pressure on Republicans to compromise on debt and deficit issues, say Senate Democratic leaders.

“We want a bipartisan agreement, and defeating the Republican budget and showing the weakness of its support [among the public] is one of the most important steps to move in that direction,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

Such a narrative, Republicans say, overlooks other factors in the race, especially the role of the so-called tea party candidate as a spoiler, dividing the Republican vote.

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