WASHINGTON -- In the wake of Tuesday night's upset victory in upstate New York's special election, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is expanding his horizons, pinpointing nearly 100 House seats that could present favorable match-ups for Democrats in 2012. He is also refocusing attention on unseating House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
"We have an excellent Democratic candidate named Rob Zerban who got into the race largely because he couldn't tolerate Paul Ryan's leadership on a plan to terminate Medicare, while funding tax cuts for big oil companies," DCCC Chair Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) told The Huffington Post in a late-night interview Tuesday. "So that's one district where the political landscape may change."
"In addition to that, there are 97 congressional districts currently represented by a Republican that are more moderate than New York 26," he added. "So there are 97 Republican members of Congress who are probably losing a lot of sleep tonight."
Israel's forecast of a move favorable political landscape underscored just how quickly both parties moved to spin Kathy Hochul's surprise win in New York's 26th District, a traditional Republican post. Republicans claimed the special election to be an aberration, blaming their loss on the presence of a third-party candidate and the bizarre circumstances that led to a special election being held in the first place. None of this would have happened had former Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) not sent half-naked pictures of himself to a woman in a flirtatious exchange over Craigslist.
Ryan, for his part, released a web video on Wednesday morning that insisted, "Washington has not been honest with you about Medicare" -- the primary issue in the NY26 election. Ryan later hit the cable circuit, telling MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that "having the ability to scare seniors is powerful."
"I personally don't think it will work," he added. "I think [voters] are going to reward leadership. I think they are going to reward people not for trying to scare people but for solving problems."
But the Democratic leadership made the factors that spurred Hochul's win difficult to ignore. Medicare -- more specifically, Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system -- had been and effective spur for moving voters of all ages, demographics and ideological stripes in New York, Democrats said.
"I never feel sympathy for Newt Gingrich," Israel said, in reference to the criticism the former House Speaker endured for calling the Ryan plan "radical." "But I will say that when somebody on the far right calls House Republicans too far to the right, we knew we were on to something."
With all but four House Republicans having voted for Ryan's plan, Democrats said the GOP's House majority, not to mention Ryan's own seat, was in a bit more peril than previously imagined.
"[Hochul's win] shows how vulnerable every single Republican in Wisconsin is, but especially Paul Ryan himself," said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate.
Targeting Republicans on Medicare and the Ryan budget will only work for Democrats if they are united in insisting that drastic Medicare reform remains off the table. But on Tuesday night there was already concern that the White House wasn't willing to play politics with the entitlement program. A statement from the president on Hochul's victory highlighted their shared belief in the "need to create jobs, grow our economy, and reduce the deficit." There was no mention of Medicare, and administration officials downplayed its significance in the special election.
Yet Israel was eager to present a united front in defending Medicare's fundamental structure.
"We always said we would have constructive discussions on strengthening Medicare, improving Medicare and reforming Medicare. But ending Medicare is non-negotiable," he said. "Our position has been consistent and it was the position validated by voters in the special election in New York."
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