Does upset in House special election matter? Dueling views from party leaders.

A Democrat pulled off an upset in a special election in New York's 26th District. DNC's Debbie Wasserman Schultz sees a repudiation of Republicans' stance on revising Medicare. NRCC's Pete Sessions sure doesn't.

Alex Brandon/AP
Incoming Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Forida acknowledges the crowd during a meeting of Democratic National Committee on May 4, in Washington.
Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom
Rep. Pete Sessions (R) of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The spin machines are working overtime coming off the special election in upstate New York in which the Democrat claimed an upset victory over the Republican to win a House seat.

For Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is also the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, the results were all about voter distaste for GOP "extreme policies" on Medicare.

For Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the race is a footnote that will have little bearing on the election cycle that lies ahead.

Neither portrayal is particularly surprising. It's Ms. Wasserman Schultz's job as DNC leader to be the Democrats' supporter in chief as she helps to craft the strategy designed to keep the White House and Senate in Democratic hands and to regain the House in the 2012 election. Here's how she portrayed the significance of Democrat Kathy Hochul’s victory Tuesday over Republican Jane Corwin in New York’s normally Republican 26th Congressional District.

“Tonight’s result has far-reaching consequences beyond New York. It demonstrates that Republicans and Independent voters, along with Democrats, will reject extreme policies like ending Medicare that even Newt Gingrich called radical,” she said in a statement Tuesday evening. She is expected to say more about how Democrats might build on whatever momentum the New York-26 victory provides when she speaks to reporters and columnists Thursday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast meeting.

By contrast, Mr. Sessions practically waved off the outcome in New York. “Obviously, each side would rather win a special election than lose, but to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky." The Texas congressman added, "History shows one important fact: the results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes.”

Top Republicans argue that Tuesday's election results are not a referendum on their House budget plan, drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, and its proposal to change the existing Medicare program for seniors. The plan envisions a system in which individuals receive subsidies to use in buying their own private health insurance.

Democrats face big challenges in the 2012 elections. President Obama is beginning his run for reelection with the national unemployment rate standing at a high 8.7 percent. Republicans control the House, and Democrats would need to regain 25 seats to regain the majority.

Meanwhile, Democrats are in danger of losing control of the Senate, some political analysts say. “The odds are stacked against the Democrats,” Charlie Cook wrote recently in the Cook Political Report.

Democrats currently have 23 Senate seats at risk in 2012 compared with 10 for Republicans, by Mr. Cook's count. Republicans need a net gain of four seats to move into the majority in the Senate.

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