Imagine a Red Sox fan walking into a Bronx bar on game night and walking out an hour later having convinced the Yankees fans inside to root for the Sox. Pretty unthinkable, right? Well that's essentially what happened yesterday in New York's 26th Congressional District where the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, defeated her Republican opponent, Jane Corwin, in a special election in one of the state's most conservative bastions.
To give some perspective, the district, which spans from Rochester to Buffalo, has 27,000 more Republicans than Democrats, voted for John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008, and has had just three Democrats represent it in the last 150 years. The 26th is about as red as they come. In last Fall's midterm elections, the GOP incumbent, Chris Lee, won the district with 76% of the vote. The only problem for Lee was that a few months later he was caught in a cheesy shirtless pose on Craigslist trolling for babes. Gov. Andrew Cuomo then called for the special election to fill the randy Republican's seat.
Jump ahead to April when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his controversial proposal to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a voucher system. While virtually all Republicans voted for it, most Americans are against the plan. So what Hochul shrewdly did up in Western New York was scare the bajeesus out of voters with: 'My opponent and her party will take away granny's Medicare and put her on the street with a tin cup.' And it worked, big time.
If Democrats were smart (I'm not so sure sometimes), they'd co-opt Hochul's strategy and aggressively run with it nationally all the way to November 2012. This is the absolute perfect bumper-sticker issue for them, and with it they could win many critical seats. The truth is, Americans dislike crafty politicians messin' with their large entitlement programs. And it ain't just granny and grandpappy that's pissed off. Voters, whether they're 20, 30 or 50, likely have several people in their families benefiting from Social Security and Medicare. What Ryan's plan did therefore was to commit political suicide for the Republican Party (sshhh...do you hear that sound? It's Ryan being pushed under the bus this morning by his conservative colleagues....)
So was Newt Gingrich right to come out strong two weekends ago on NBC's Meet the Press where he criticized Ryan's plan as "Right wing social engineering?" Well, the proof is in the puddin.' The Democrats' astounding victory Tuesday should not just give great pause to House Speaker John Boehner (OH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and every other Republican (incumbent or hopeful), but should be an indication to Gingrich that maybe, just maybe, he's on the right side of a hot populist movement. My opinion? I'd say it's time to pull out that fork that so many stuck in him these past two weeks. It would be very foolish to count Newt out just yet. While he may have pissed off every Republican politician in Washington, his position seems to resonate among the majority of Republican voters. Call me crazy, but that's what matters on election day.