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Democrat Kathy Hochul drew on voter discontent over Republican plans to revamp Medicare to score an upset win on Tuesday in a special election to represent a conservative upstate New York congressional district.
Hochul defeated Republican Jane Corwin in a three-way race that also included self-described Tea Party candidate Jack Davis. The outcome did not affect Republican control of the House of Representatives.
“Tonight the voters were willing to look beyond the political labels and vote for a person, and vote for message that they believe in,” Hochul told cheering supporters minutes after taking a phone call from Corwin, a state assemblywoman.
“We can balance the budget the right way, and not on the backs of our seniors,” said Hochul, the Erie County clerk. “We had the issues on our side.”
Once expected to be a Republican landslide, the special congressional election tightened in the final days, with a spotlight trained on the national debate over the budget deficit, spending and Medicare — the government-run healthcare program for the elderly.
President Barack Obama, who is visiting Britain, issued a statement congratulating Hochul on her victory.
“Kathy and I both believe that we need to create jobs, grow our economy, and reduce the deficit in order to outcompete other nations and win the future,” Obama said.
The election was called to replace disgraced Republican Chris Lee, who resigned in February after his shirtless photo appeared on the Internet.
Corwin came under heavy attack from Hochul for backing a divisive budget plan put forth by Republicans in the House, and also saw Davis siphon away support.
National parties and outside groups poured money into the district, hoping to claim victory in the battle over cuts in spending and Medicare first proposed by House Republican Paul Ryan.
“Kathy Hochul’s victory tonight is a tribute to Democrats’ commitment to preserve and strengthen Medicare, create jobs, and grow our economy,” Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
“It sends a clear message that will echo nationwide: Republicans will be held accountable for their vote to end Medicare.”
Only two Democrats since World War Two have represented the heavily Republican 26th Congressional District, which covers a big area of western New York near Buffalo.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said in a statement that Corwin had to battle “two well-funded Democrats, including one masquerading under the Tea Party name.” The Tea Party is a conservative activist movement.
Sessions added that while “each side would rather win a special election than lose … to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky,” and that special elections were “poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes.”
Copyright © 2011 Reuters