Those eagerly waiting for right-wing spin about Rep. Paul Ryan‘s (R-WI) Medicare plan didn’t have to wait for results from Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 26th congressional district. As the unpopularity of Ryan’s plan became clear in the run-up to the election, Republicans and conservative organizations began insisting that the election was not a referendum on the Ryan plan. At the same time, they began making excuses for why Republican candidate Jane Corwin might lose. But after the results were in, and Democrat Kathy Hochul’s upset victory was even bigger than polls predicted, the GOP went into full spin mode. They offered up a variety of excuses for why the race had nothing to do with Ryan’s plan, even though Medicare was virtually the only major topic discussed in the final weeks of the race. It’s still much too early to forecast what NY-26 may mean for Democrats and Republicans in the 2012 elections. Because of redistricting, NY-26 as it is now likely won’t exist in the next election. But if there is one takeaway from the results, it’s that a little-known Democrat won a deeply conservative congressional seat that has been in GOP hands for 50 years because voters were worried sick about Ryan’s plan to end Medicare as we know it.
UNPOPULARITY OF THE RYAN PLAN: In efforts to control the race’s overall damage, many Republicans began spinning the results by blaming Tea Party candidate Jack Davis, who received nine percent of the vote, for Corwin’s loss. The substance of their argument, however, made little sense, and whether it was from pre-election poll numbers, interviews with voters, or the actions of the candidates, all signs pointed to the fact that Medicare was indeed the driving factor in Hochul’s win. An afterthought at the beginning of the race, Hochul surged into contention after she attacked Corwin’s support for the Ryan plan. Pre-electi on polling showed that voters were concerned about Medicare, and Hochul’s campaign obviously benefited from her criticism of Corwin’s position and her own hardline stance in support of Medicare. Corwin, meanwhile, seemed to recognize the issue’s importance, as she produced radio ads inexplicably attacking Hochul for destroying Medicare and later backtracked on her support for the Ryan plan. In interviews with The New York Times, multiple voters admitted they voted for Hochul simply because of Medicare. One Republican voter said: “I’ve almost always voted party line. This is the second time in my life I’ve voted against my party.” Another said, “The privatization of Medicare scares me.” Corwin and her conservative allies outspent Hochul by a large margin, with Corwin herself spending nearly $60 for each vote she received. It wasn’t enough, however, to overcome the unpopularity of the Ryan plan.
RYAN GETS DEFENSIVE: Ryan has never backed away from the possibility that his plan might cause political strife for his party, and he acknowledged that it played a role in Corwin’s loss Tuesday. But Ryan is apparently oblivious to the facts about his plan, taking to the morning TV shows Wednesday to blame Democrats for using “MediScare tactics” and “demagoguery” to demonize his plan. “Having the ability to scare seniors is powerful,” Ryan said. The truth, of course, is that Democrats have informed voters what Ryan’s plan would mean for the future of Medicare. As ThinkProgress has documented, Ryan’s plan does end Medicare as we know it, and despite Ryan’s claims, it does turn Medicare into a voucher program, not a program based on “premium support.” Informing voters that the Ryan plan will shift costs from the government to senior citizens, doubling the cost of an insurance policy between now and 2023, isn’t demagoguery — it’s the well-documented truth. Ryan is clinging to his plan, releasing a video Tuesday night in an effort to deflect criticism from the plan in the wake of Corwin’s defeat. In att empting to blame the plan’s opponents of demagoguery, Ryan is apparently choosing to deny the obvious: when Americans learn the truth about his plan for Medicare, they just don’t like it.
ON TO 2012: It’s too soon to tell exactly how Medicare and the Ryan plan will affect the 2012 elections. But with Democrats planning to use “Medicare, Medicare, and Medicare” as a consistent campaign issue, Republicans in the coming weeks will have to decide which way they will go on the Ryan budget. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) hinted that Medicare may become a problem for the party, and that the GOP may have to change course in order to avoid a drubbing similar to the one Democrats took in 2010. Then Republicans blasted them for cutting $500 billion from Medicare in attempts to root out waste, fraud, and abuse while paying for the Affordable Care Act. “It’s a Republican district with a solid Republican candidate,” King said. “What went wrong? We definitely have to determine the ext ent to which the Medicare issue hurt us.” With conservatives using the Ryan plan as a litmus test for 2012 candidates, the NY-26 result could make it especially hard for the party’s presidential candidates, several of whom have avoided taking set positions on the Ryan plan. While Ryan may be in denial about his plan, many of his GOP colleagues see the writing on the wall . In the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) forced a vote on the Ryan plan Wednesday afternoon, five Republicans — Susan Collins (ME), Olympia Snowe (ME), Scott Brown (MA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Rand Paul (KY) — voted against the plan, though Paul did so because he believed the plan didn’t go far enough. That it is causing much angst for Republicans in the House, Senate, and the presidential race is ironic, because that the plan as it stands never had a chance of passing the Senate or getting signed into law by President Obama. Now that it is obvious that the voters’ dislike of the Ryan plan translates into serious problems for Republicans at the polls, the biggest question to take away from Tuesday may be why House Republicans held a vote on it at all.