Democrat Kathy Hochul scored an improbable victory Tuesday in western New York, handing an embarrassing special election loss to local Republicans while frustrating the national GOP establishment and its allies, who invested millions of dollars in the contest.
Hochul, who now takes the 26th district seat vacated by Rep. Chris Lee (R), earned 47 percent of the vote compared with 43 percent for Republican Jane Corwin with 97 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Buffalo News. Third-party candidate Jack Davis, who will be forever labeled by Republicans as the spoiler, earned 9 percent.
“Tonight we showed that voters are really willing to look beyond a party label and vote for the person and a message they believe in,” Hochul said in her victory speech. “And we showed that thousands and thousands and thousands of voters are more powerful than millions and millions of dollars in special interest money.”
Democrats cheered the outcome as the direct result of voter dissatisfaction with the House Republican budget plan, which Corwin supported and would fundamentally reshape Medicare. Republicans largely blamed the loss on Davis, a former Democrat who occupied the Tea Party ballot line and spent more than $2.5 million from his personal fortune on a campaign that ultimately siphoned votes away from Corwin.
Steven Law, president and CEO of American Crossroads, a conservative political organization that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the race in an attempt to buoy Corwin, warned Republicans that the race could be a harbinger for 2012.
“The debate over whether Medicare mattered more than a third-party candidate who split the Republican vote is mostly a partisan Rorschach Test,” Law said in a statement. “What is clear is that this election is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that 2012 will be just like 2010. It’s going to be a tougher environment, Democrats will be more competitive, and we need to play at the top of our game to win big next year.”
But National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions contended that the race set no precedent.
“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 Republican said in a statement. “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. If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010.”
The special election, called in the wake of Lee’s abrupt resignation in February, was never supposed to be this close.
Corwin, an independently wealthy state lawmaker, was long considered the frontrunner in what is among the most conservative districts in the state. Democrats, in fact, were initially reluctant to help Hochul for fear of raising expectations and wasting resources on a seat that was considered a long shot at best.
But Republicans in Washington quietly sensed danger weeks ago. And by early May, the NRCC and conservative groups such as American Crossroads began pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the district to rescue a foundering Corwin campaign.
Crossroads alone dumped $700,000 into the effort to supplement Corwin’s personal investment of nearly $3 million.
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