Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican Jane Corwin and "Tea Party" candidate Jack Davis in Tuesday's special congressional election in western New York. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Hochul is leading Corwin 48,530 votes to 43,836 votes (or 47.1 percent to 42.6 percent). The current 4,694-vote margin of victory is half of Tea Partier Jack Davis's vote tally (9,495 votes or 9.2 percent). Combine the Republican and "Tea Party" votes, and that's 52 percent of the vote, which is the same as John McCain's 2008 share of the NY-26 vote (Obama got 46 percent that year). Turnout in the special election was about half of what it was in November 2010.
How good are these results for Democrats? Well, it's always good to win another House seat (even though this one may be wiped off the map during redistricting). But it's not clear that the Democrat's share of the vote is all that impressive or significant, given that the election was precipitated by Republican congressman Chris Lee's Craigslist sex scandal and ensuing resignation, and Republicans remained divided throughout the race.
It wasn't merely that the "Tea Party" candidate Jack Davis spent millions of dollars of his own money on this race and took votes away from Corwin. David Bellavia, the conservative who was passed over by the GOP chairmen, attacked Corwin for being pro-choice on abortion and then tried to secure a spot on the Conservative party line. When Bellavia, a decorated combat veteran, failed to get the Conservative nomination, he endorsed third party "Tea Party" candidate Jack Davis.
Although division on the right helped hand victories to Democrats in NY-23 and PA-12, Republicans went on to make sweeping gains in November 2010. Philip Klein points out some of the headlines those two races produced:
But in 2009 and 2010, Republicans had a string off losses in special elections that lead the media to question weather it bode poorly for their chances of retaking the House majority. For instance, "Dismal special election record could hamper Republicans' 2010 comeback" read a Hill headline in October 2009. After a Republicans lost a May 2010 special election to replace deceased Jack Murtha, the New York Times write a story headlined, "Democrats See Hope for Fall in Victory in House Race."
So, for all the attempts by Democrats and many news reporters to spin this race as a referendum on Medicare reform, Republican scandal and division in this race make NY-26 a poor test case. I think Charlie Cook's analysis from last week still holds true: "[I]mplying that the outcome of this race portends anything about any conventional race next year amounts to cheap spin and drive-by 'analysis' of the most superficial kind, which is sadly becoming all too prevalent in Washington. There are a lot of folks in D.C. who would be well-served switching to decaf."
Update 10:18a.m.: This post has been updated to include the latest vote totals.