Questions have arisen as to what now happens to Ryan’s congressional seat, since he is on the ballot today for renomination. Since Wisconsin law is silent on the subject of running nationally and simultaneously for Congress, and because there is no mechanism for removing a person from the Badger State ballot once they are nominated, Ryan’s name will appear for both the vice presidency and the 1st Congressional District. Should he win both elections, then the 1st CD would go to special election in early 2013 upon the congressman’s official resignation from the House.
A year away from the 2012 election, embattled Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D) already has embarked on a rather interesting strategic course. If the logic behind his new television ad ultimately prevails, a new chapter in campaign finance law could be opening. If the Republicans directly counter-attack, Nelson may have prematurely opened a door that he would have preferred kept closed.
The Nebraska Democratic State Central Committee is paying for an ad that attacks all three of Nelson’s Republican opponents, graphically portraying them as three peas in a pod. The Senator’s campaign claims that this ad is part of an independent issue expenditure and should not count against the coordinated expenditure limit between party and candidate. What’s different about this “independent” ad – one that cannot be coordinated with a campaign – is that the senator himself appears in the spot and says he approves of its message. If this is considered “independent,” then we could have a whole new approach to all other independent expenditure campaigns.
In the body of the ad, Nelson and his party claim the Republican candidates want to cut Medicare and Social Security and that he (Nelson) will protect them both. Yet, when the senator became the deciding vote on the Obama healthcare plan that led to the infamous “Cornhusker Kick-back” attack, now the source of Nelson’s current political trouble, he himself supported a $500 million cut in Medicare by voting for the bill. The counter-argument to this point seems an easy one for the GOP candidates to make.
The new party ad, independent or not, may prove to cause Sen. Nelson more trouble than it might be worth. His taking such bold action at this time clearly confirms the public polls that show him trailing his Republican opponents.
Democratic/Working Families Party nominee Kathy Hochul, who began as little more than a sacrificial lamb in what should be a relatively safe Republican district, won the special election last night to succeed former Rep. Christopher Lee (R). Mr. Lee resigned the seat earlier in the year to avoid publicizing an impending personal scandal. Ms. Hochul, the Erie County clerk, defeated state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin who held the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party ballot lines, along with Independent Jack Davis. Hochul’s margin was 47-43-9% against Corwin and Davis, respectively.
Turnout appeared to be low, especially in comparison to the previous upstate specials that broke 35 percent in voter participation. Approximately 115,000 people cast ballots, not counting what are likely several thousand yet-to-be-tabulated absentee votes. The turnout rate was hovering around 28 percent.
The two most recent pollsters called the race accurately. The closing surveys, one from Siena College and the other Public Policy Polling, showed Hochul holding four- and six-point leads, respectively, during the weekend directly preceding the election. The final margin, as revealed above, was four points.
The result allows the Democrats to extend their strong performances in special elections and adds to the commensurate Republican woes, particularly in multi-candidate upstate New York contests. The Hochul victory represents the third such favorable Democratic result in the last four New York special elections, even though the Republicans were favored at the beginning of each race.
The focal point of the campaign became Independent Jack Davis who labeled himself with the word “Tea.” New York election law allows qualifying Independents to describe themselves in a similar manner to party designation labels for the major candidates. Davis, however, was not a Tea Party member. He previously ran for Congress three times as a liberal Democrat. The Davis candidacy sparked confusion and controversy, thus causing Republican nominee Corwin to make unforced errors that ultimately cost her the seat. At one point, Davis was polling within just a few points of Hochul and Corwin, topping out at 23 percent. Then, both the Democrats and Republicans unloaded on Davis, ultimately costing him two-thirds of his potential support.
Aligned with the Conservative and Independence parties in a seat drawn for the GOP, this special election should have gone the Republicans’ way. Again, as had been the case in what proved to be a disastrous 23rd district contest (Rep. Bill Owens) two different times for Republicans, a minor party candidate cut against the GOP nominee and cost them the seat.
Total spending among the contenders broke $7 million, but the three candidates themselves contributed over $5 million of that total. Davis is a multi-millionaire who has traditionally self-funded his campaigns. He spent more than $2.6 million for this special election. Corwin dumped a similar amount into her campaign.
Outside entity spending was interesting. According to the latest OpenSecrets.org analysis, $1.99 million, in addition to the candidates’ cumulative total, was injected by independent organizations. A great deal of those expenditures, better than $755,000 worth, were targeted in opposition to Davis. More than $541,000 went against Hochul, and an additional $471,000 targeted Corwin. Both major party candidates also received positive independent expenditures, but those totaled less than $150,000 apiece.
The count in the House is now 241 Republicans and 193 Democrats with one vacancy. The open California 36th district will be filled on July 12th. Democrat Janice Hahn is a heavy favorite in that campaign. The New York delegation will now head into redistricting, where the state loses two seats in reapportionment, with 22 Democrats and seven Republicans.
Democrats will attempt to frame this election as a referendum on Medicare, as they continually attacked Corwin for saying she would support the controversial Ryan budget plan. The Republican never effectively countered the attack. The bigger issue, however, was the repeated Corwin mistakes that once again allowed a New York Republican seat to slip through the GOP’s fingers. In a special election, when turnout is always down and sometimes not reflective of a district’s voting patterns, the candidate running the more competent campaign generally wins. Clearly, Ms. Hochul was the superior campaigner in NY-26 during this battle.
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