Check out this Rachel Maddow segment from July 18:
"That nearly unanimous Republican endorsement of killing Medicare, that vote for the Paul Ryan budget led directly to the loss of a safe Republican congressional seat in a special election in Upstate New York. That was back in May," said the liberal MSNBC host. "The Democrats in charge of taking back the House for their party in 2012 rather gleefully announced that to take back the House they did have a three-part strategy, and their three part strategy was: Medicare, Medicare, and Medicare."
Maddow ran a clip of a "Mediscare" attack ad playing in Nevada and said:
[V]oting for the Paul Ryan kill Medicare budget is so politically potent -- what you just saw there is that vote being wielded as a cudgel against people who didn't even necessarily vote for it themselves but who might be sort of like the people who did vote for it.
This kill Medicare vote that the Republicans took this spring, this is what's known in politics as a humdinger. Democrats think those votes in the spring of this year are still going to be driving votes in November of next year. That is how Democrats feel about the Republicans/Paul Ryan kill Medicare budget.
But in Nevada's special election yesterday, the Medicare attacks failed to drive votes. Republican Mark Amodei defeated Democrat Kate Marshall 58% to 36%. The district gave McCain 49% of the vote in 2008 and 57% to Bush in 2004 (as you may recall, 2004 was a pretty good year for Republicans).
The attacks also failed, as Mickey Kaus and David Weigel point out, in New York's special election. But NV-2 was a better test case of the Medicare attacks than NY-9. After all, the New York special election was quirky--it was precipitated by a Democratic scandal and a couple of unique factors divided the Democratic party (Weprin's vote for gay marriage and unhappiness in the sizable Jewish community over Obama's Israel policy). Turner would have voted "no" on the Ryan budget.
On the other hand, Nevada Republican Mark Amodei, while saying he wouldn't have voted for the GOP budget because it didn't cut enough, gave his opponents a lot more grist for their Medicare attack ads:
Amodei Said He Liked Ryan’s Medicare Plan. The Las Vegas Sun reported on the Ryan plan Amodei said, “I like a lot of what he has to say in terms of Medicare.” [Las Vegas Sun, 7/14/11]
Amodei Claimed Ryan’s Plan for Medicare Was “Excellent.” Amodei praised the Ryan blueprint. “I like a lot of what he has to say in terms of Medicare. I think that’s excellent.” [Politico, 6/20/11]
Amodei Said He Would Give Paul Ryan Whatever Support He Needs. On the Ryan budget, Amodei said, “I need to cozy up to Paul Ryan and give him whatever support he needs.” [Las Vegas Sun, 7/14/11]
Amodei countered the Medicare attacks by pointing out that he wants Medicare reimbursement rates to be higher. That's pretty consistent with the GOP position that Obama's plan to reform Medicare through rationing is bad, and the Republican plan to reform Medicare through choice and competition for future beneficiaries is good.
It wouldn't be accurate to say that the Nevada election proves Medicare will be a non-issue in 2012. It's always easy to read too much into a special election--that was certainly the case when Democrats heralded the NY-26 race as a "referendum" on GOP Medicare reform.
What we do know is that in this case, Amodei didn't directly vote for Ryan's Medicare reform, but he did praise it. In the Democrats' minds that should have been enough to sink him in a district that was evenly divided between McCain and Obama in 2008. It didn't work.