Voters in New York's 26th congressional district are voting Tuesday to pick a replacement for Chris Lee, who resigned after the whole Internet saw him with his top off. The special election is now seen as a referendum on Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to phase out Medicare because even though the district is conservative, Democrat Kathy Hochul is ahead in the polls. As the national significance debated, the parties are mounting big get-out-the-vote operations--Republican Jane Corwin's campaign had 500 volunteers knocking on doors over the weekend--150 of them bussed up from Washington, the Niagara Gazette's Eric DuVall reports. Hochul says the Democratic Party is running a "full field program" with hundreds of volunteers contacting thousands of voters.
Politico's Alex Isenstadt writes that both parties are playing the "expectations game"--Republicans saying this race means nothing because third party candidate Jack Davis is siphoning votes from Corwin (pictured above, voting), and Democrats insisting they shouldn't even be competitive in such a red district. (Conservatives started spinning the race even before polls put Hochul ahead, Dave Weigel notes.) And this strategy can be seen in browsing political blogs: liberal sites are giving a lot of coverage to the race Tuesday, while few conservative sites are bothering with it (the opposite was true in Wisconsin's special election earlier this year, once missing votes were found handing the race to the conservative candidate.) The New Republic's Jonathan Chait says the race might be an outlier, but it's still significant. It has "centered almost entirely around the exact theme that Democrats plan to employ in the next election cycle," Chait writes. "All this suggests the party has gotten deep traction on the issue, and that the public can react against the policies of the House GOP. The political landscape that produced the Republican sweep of 2010 is gone. Just what replaces it remains to be seen."
NBC's First Read says that special elections aren't a good guide to how the parties will fare in fall elections--but still, the power of Medicare shouldn't be understated. A "GOP loss in NY-26--a district John McCain won in 2008, 52%-46%--would be a wake-up call for Republicans on Medicare, forcing their House members and even presidential candidates to re-evaluate how they approach the issue."