House Republicans are calling their special election loss in upstate New York this week a wake-up call that came with enough time for the party to recover before the 2012 campaigns.
Rank-and-file Members complained Wednesday that the Conference has lost sight of jobs, the issue that voters care most about, and flailed on a host of messaging strategies that failed to penetrate the conservative electorate in New York’s 26th district.
Further, GOP Members are worried about future elections and the erosion of the historic gains the party made in 2010.
“There’s no doubt that special election causes me, and I think several of my colleagues, to reflect on what we’re doing here in the House,” Rep. Lee Terry said. “You don’t lose a very Republican seat without putting in some thought of why.”
The Nebraska Republican said all GOP leaders are to blame for the outcome Tuesday, when Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican Jane Corwin 47 percent to 43 percent. He questioned the focus at the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), and acknowledged the party’s stance on Medicare reform, detailed in Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (Wis.) sweeping plan, has hurt the party.
“We have a bigger question within our Conference. I think we can sit here and debate the impact of the Medicare vote, but we can’t win a special election,” Terry said. “There is something that we’re doing wrong at the NRCC, where we lose almost every special election.”
The New York race was the first competitive special of the 2012 cycle. Since 2008, Democrats have won seven out of eight competitive special elections.
Republican leaders pushed back against any criticism of the handling of the special election and warned against drawing broader conclusions based on the outcome.
Ryan, the architect of the Medicare plan, also sought to turn the message around on Democrats.
“We have a year and a half for the truth to come out, and when it does, the American people are going to know that they’ve been lied to. And I think we will be doing very well,” Ryan told reporters Wednesday.
Republican aides pointed to a competitive special election in Pennsylvania, which Democrats won last May, as evidence that one victory often does not translate to bigger election gains. Roughly six months after that win, Democrats lost control of the House.
Republicans also argued that the influence of national operatives was limited, in part, by Corwin’s deep pockets.
“One of the problems in a special election when you have a self-funder is that it limits your ability to tell them what to do,” a high-level NRCC official said.