WASHINGTON -- If the race to fill a vacant western New York House seat is offering a preview of 2012, it's going to be a bruising affair, with Medicare and Social Security at the center of the fight.
Republicans fired the latest television volley Monday, slamming the Tea Party candidate, Jack Davis, as much as the Democratic opponent, Kathy Hochul, with a spot by the National Republican Congressional Committee that blames the two for Nancy Pelosi's "failed stimulus." And that's accompanied by a spot from Republican Jane Corwin accusing Hochul of planning to slash Medicare and a Social Security.
Democrats have been hammering Corwin -- and Republicans around the country -- with the same charge, pointing to their support of the House budget plan passed in April that would change Medicare from a public program to a private one subsidized by the government. It would also cost Medicare recipients an extra $6,000 a year by 2021, on top of $6,000 in higher expenses that had already been expected by then, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Corwin is turning the tables with her new ad, which declares, "The truth is it's Hochul who says she would cut Medicare and Social Security." For evidence, it cites Hochul saying in an interview that "everything should be on the table" for discussions on how to tame the budget. Hochul has not made any specific proposals to cut the popular social safety net programs.
"Jane Corwin’s desperation has never been more evident than it is today," Hochul said in a statement Monday. She called the ad an "effort to distract voters from her support for the Republican-endorsed Ryan budget that ... would cut billions of dollars from Medicare and recast it as a voucher program."
Democrats have already been pushing their version of events around the country. The latest effort is a round of robo-calls starting Monday in 20 districts to voters between the ages of 45 and 54. The calls add up the increased costs of the GOP Medicare plan and allege it means people of that age group will need "an additional $182,000 in retirement savings to pay for their health care."
The western New York contest -- to replace disgraced GOP Rep. Chris Lee -- is complicated by Davis -- a wealthy former Democratic candidate who's grabbed the Tea Party line. One leading Tea Party group, the Tea Party Express, has branded Lee "a fraud."
The district has served as a testing ground for national messages, and has the parties and their allies spending heavily.
The NRCC has hiked its ad buy to $411,000 in both the Buffalo and Rochester markets, while GOP-friendly American Crossroads has spent nearly $650,000.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is believed to have dropped about $274,000 into the race, while the new Democratic outside organization House Majority PAC is in for about $90,000.
The Republican focus had been an attempt to squash Davis, in hopes of avoiding the sort of conservative split that let a Democrat win New York's historically Republican 23rd District last year.
Recent polls suggest Davis may be fading, but the Medicare message seems to have been working so well for Hochul that the Rothenberg Political Report has shifted the race from its "toss-up" category to "toss-up/lean Democratic" Monday.
Still, in spite of attempts to make the race a national example, operatives on both sides sounded a note of caution in drawing conclusions. Democrats won eight contested special elections in the last election cycle, and the GOP won only one. Yet it was the Republicans who romped in November 2010.