GOP Strategy in NY 26: Kill Off The Tea Party Candidate

Karl Rover

The Democratic candidate for Congress in New York’s 26th Congressional District campaign is hoping to make the race a referendum on Medicare.  She argues that the House Republican budget plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) would decimate Medicare as we know it and vows to defend the program from Ryan’s alleged assault.  Her GOP opponent responds by saying that her Democratic opponent is engaging in classic “Mediscare” politics. 

The special election, which will be held on May 24th, was called to fill the seat of Rep. Chris Lee (R), the 15-minute famous “Craigslist Congressman” who published what he imagined were beefcake photos of himself on Craigslist.  Once caught out, the married Congressman did the only thing he could do; he resigned.

Ordinarily, a race like this would be of no great interest.  It’s a safely Republican district that combines bedroom communities from Buffalo to Rochester. Two things changed: (1) “Crazy Jack” Dean, a three-time former candidate for the seat, got into the race, this time as a self-professed “Tea Party” candidate, and (2) The House Republican budget plan authored by Rep. Ryan called for the “transformation” of Medicare. 

The Democratic candidate, Erie County pol Kathy Hochul, decided to bet her entire campaign on the Medicare issue. She is hoping that voters will see a vote for her as a vote to “keep” Medicare as it is.  So far, that “framing” of the choice has worked very well indeed.  Some polls now show her with a slight lead in the three-way race.

The Republican candidate, NY State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, is hoping that voters will see this as a typical Republican/Democratic race.  As there are many more Republican voters in the district, this “framing” of the choice should produce a relatively easy win.

Unfortunately for Ms. Corwin, “Crazy Jack” Dean is drawing votes from her conservative/Republican base.  His “Tea Party” packaging is working. He’s also personally wealthy and self-funding much of his campaign.  The result, in a nutshell, is that the GOP vote is splitting, creating an opening for Ms. Hochul.

What to do?  Republicans have decided that there is only one thing they can do to insure a victory:  destroy “Crazy Jack” Dean.  The conservative group American Crossroads (the brainchild of GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie) announced yesterday that they would spend $650,000 on television ads eviscerating Mr. Dean.  The National Republican Congressional Committee is expected to follow up with a media buy of its own, echoing the American Crossroads message that Jack Dean isn’t a Tea Party animal, he’s a liberal Democrat.

In so doing, Republicans are attempting to make sure that the first major vote since the introduction of the House Republican budget does not signal rejection.  A Democratic win in New York 26 would be a body blow to the House Republican agenda, to say the least. 

It better work, because the consequence of all of this lavish national GOP attention is that it raises the stakes of the race considerably.  It’s one thing to be surprised and lose.  It’s another thing altogether to see the threat in advance, take decisive action to beat it back, and still lose.  If that happens, holding the GOP line on Medicare within the GOP House caucus will become impossible.