N.Y. Race Is Referendum on GOP Medicare Plan
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By Philip Rucker,
The Washington Post
May 16, 2011

AMHERST, N.Y. — Special congressional elections tend to be sleepy affairs, campaigns so condensed and out of step with the normal political calendar that they’re often missed. But they can be mirrors of the national moment, too, and that’s what’s happening in the suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester, where a race to fill a vacant U.S. House seat has turned into a referendum on the Republican plan to overhaul Medicare.

Sensing an unexpected opportunity for a Democratic rebound from last year’s losses, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) flew here Sunday morning and moved from table to table at the Family Tree Restaurant, hovering over eggs, sausage links and pancakes to deliver a simple message.

“If you care about Medicare and want to keep Medicare as it is, she’s your person,” Schumer, the Democrats’ message man in Washington, said as he introduced diners to Democrat Kathy Hochul. “Her opponent wants to just dismantle it.”

At the next table: “If you’re gonna have Medicare one of these days, she’s fighting to keep it.”

And the next: “Her opponent will change it so you wouldn’t even recognize it.”

This, Democrats believe, is how Hochul just might do what seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago: win in one of the nation’s more inhospitable places for Democrats.

This is also the formula Democrats plan to use next year, when Republicans will face voters for the first time after backing a plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would turn Medicare into a private voucher system.

Changing Medicare, the centerpiece of Ryan’s plan, is deeply unpopular across the country, according to public polls. The backlash to it in this economically struggling district, where registered voters are older than the national average, has turned an unusual three-way race into a dead heat.

Thus, what happens here ahead of the May 24 election will set the terms for both parties’ campaign playbooks heading into the 2012 battle for control of the House and Senate.

Aware of the stakes, the national parties have poured money into the race, outside groups are flooding local airwaves, and Democratic and Republican leaders are taking an active role.

Ryan recently sent a plea to his supporters to raise money for Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin, the Republican candidate. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) hosted a fundraiser for Corwin here. And House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) appeared at a Hochul fundraiser in Manhattan on Friday night.

Read more at The Washington Post.