A lot has already been written, with more to come, about the special election on Tuesday in the NY-26 district, where Democrat Kathy Hochul beat Republican candidate Jane Corwin and Tea Party candidate Jack Davis. This isn’t a New York City district. This is upstate New York, in the Buffalo area. It’s a conservative-voting district (McCain won this district in 2008), that apparently isn’t following the standard angry conservative script to vote against Democrats as well as Republicans who don’t promise to return us to a Real America, that follows the constitution (read: small government except for defense and socially conservative causes like denying access to abortion and anything even remotely helping gay people).
The popular narratives thus far trumpet the (Rep. Paul) Ryan budget plan – and it’s end to Medicare as we know it – as a driving force for the Democratic upset. It’s an unpopular plan with most Americans and Hochul used that to her advantage. The presence of a wealthy and conservative third party candidate didn’t help the GOP either. While Davis only got 9 percent of the vote (less than what Hochul beat Corwin by), he still created enough of a stir that Corwin felt the need to spend a lot of time and resources on him. Resources that were not spent on Hochul.
Feminist Side Note: As a woman who cares about politics, it’s nice to see a race in which the two main candidates are women focus on general issues and not primarily on the fact that two women were running. We are a long way off in terms of parity for women in politics, but I’m still taking this as a good sign.
It’s impossible to say what this means for the 2012 elections – it’s too early to know what it all means for the special election itself- but here’s what I hope this election foretells:
1. The far right swing against government is ebbing
If the Tea Party cry of 2010, that government is the problem and not the solution, was the mantra then, it might be on borrowed time now. Maybe what these people are upset with is what the government is actually doing instead of creating jobs: attacking unions, throwing women’s health out the window, and stripping away the few environmental protections we have. But if the pundits are correct that many voted against the gutting of Medicare, then this may be the beginning of a swing back to recognizing that there are at least some things we want government to do, namely keep Medicare and Medicaid going.
2. When presented with a strong and viable candidate, people will vote in their best interests and not necessarily according to the R or the D beside her name
The Washington Post said it well: candidates matter and Hochul was the superior candidate. Corwin’s personal wealth may have been a deterrent in a district where many are still suffering economically, but no doubt her ideology and proposed solutions didn’t go over well either. Hochul’s did. Furthermore, as I’ve already mentioned, this is a GOP-strong district, so at least some of these Republicans felt comfortable enough with Hochul to cast their vote away from their usual preferred party. That’s great for the Democrats, great for women and hopefully great for the 26th district.
3. Social programs matter
(Not an actual)NEWSFLASH: We like them. Medicare surely wasn’t the only factor, but considering the amount of press this issue and the GOP plan for revamping it has gotten, it was certainly a significant factor. And considering that the candidate most closely associated with the Ryan plan lost, in a race she should’ve won, this is telling. Americans may not like a really big government, but we also don’t want to lose all safety nets. Especially not a time when so many are already struggling to make ends meet. Stated another way: this is when we need our social programs most, not the time to offer them up as sacrificial lambs, especially not while simultaneously giving tax cuts to the wealthiest.
4. Security matters
Allow me to digress a bit. The security I’m talking about here is job security. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about the role of unions in this special election, but if you expand the political landscape, especially to the Midwest, you have to include labor. Republican-controlled legislatures and their gubernatorial counterparts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio have all tried to dismantle unions in some way or another, predictably under the guise of controlling out-of-control budgets. How does this relate to security? Read the Alternet piece by Adele M. Stan about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the role of unions. The maid he allegedly attacked is a union member, which gave her protection against any backlash that might ensue from, say accusing a rich client of the hotel of raping her.
Now, we’ve had surprising Democratic wins in upstate New York before that did not translate into anything promising for the general election that followed (see 2009, NY-20 and NY-23), so this could be a lot of prognosticating for nothing. But who knows? Maybe six months of a GOP-led House that has spent more time trying to defund Planned Parenthood and take Medicare away from seniors than it has creating jobs is enough for most people. At least for those without jobs and those who are still feeling more than their fair share of the economic collapse.