The Lessons of NY-26

Sparing you the pain of watching the ensuing battle unfold from the cheap seats along with other New York politicos, this brings us to Tuesday’s election. While Team Corwin had filed an injunction against declaring a winner in anticipation of a close race, the dust settled much faster than expected. The final tally showed Hochul with a 47-43 margin of victory and Corwin delivered her concession speech before 11:00 pm.

So what should we take away from this sad tale? Liberals were quick to jump on the theme that this spelled the death of entitlement reform and the Republican revolution, based on the fact that Hochul had run her campaign primarily not against Jane Corwin, but Paul Ryan. But the picture was obviously far cloudier than that.

Turnout for this race was dismal by any standard, coming in at barely 101,000 votes cast. Races with that small of a sample are notoriously finicky, and it’s difficult to draw conclusions. Plus, there was the Davis effect. It played out far differently than I had originally anticipated, but it was still a significant factor. Davis was pulling 23% of the vote in mid-April according to Siena polling, but when his support began to crater, his followers broke to the Democrat by a nearly 5:1 margin. However, he retained a base of 9% in the end, and if those voters had been more likely to lean toward Corwin she could have still pulled out a victory.

This does not mean, however, that Republicans aren’t whistling past the graveyard to a certain extent if they try to pass off this loss as a third party aberration. What we saw in NY-26 is, without a doubt, a preview of the playbook which Democrats will be running in 2012. While the rest of the nation focuses on jobs and the national debt, for the first time, Siena found that the highest ranked priority among likely voters the week before the election was Medicare. Corwin herself sheepishly admitted last week that she had let the entitlement horse get too far out of the barn before she responded to Hochul’s attacks on that front.

Voter education on fixing entitlement programs before we go over the cliff is always going to be a challenge, and this race should serve as a stern warning. It’s an easy sell for Democrats on an extremely complicated issue, and any Republican embracing the Ryan plan for 2012 should be taking notes from Corwin’s experience when framing their messaging strategy for next year.

So, do the results of this special election contain portents for the future? Without a doubt they do. But it’s not as simple as either side would have you believe. This was a noteworthy event and those who don’t learn from Corwin’s mistakes may be doomed to repeat them next year.