Trou­bling sig­nals from up­state New York

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The race to suc­ceed chest-baring, Craigslist-dab­bling Rep. Chris Lee in up­state New York has not re­ceived much na­tional no­tice. Events in Ab­bot­tabad have crowded out other sto­ries. But Democrats are ex­cited by a Siena Col­lege poll sug­gest­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of an up­set in the May 24 elec­tion.

New York’s 26th con­gres­sional district stretches from the sub­urbs east of Buf­falo to the sub­urbs west of Rochester, a mostly ru­ral, white, and Repub­li­can part of New York. As Michael Barone notes in The Almanac of Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics, “Peo­ple speak not in the pun­gent ac­cents of New York City but in flat Mid­west­ern tones.” The 26th gave 55 per­cent of its vote to Ge­orge W. Bush in 2004, and 52 per­cent to McCain in 2008.

Spe­cial elec­tions can be like out-of-town open­ings for Broad­way shows, a time for test mar­ket­ing themes and slo­gans. Though the race be­gan with two at­trac­tive, barely dis­tin­guish­able women can­di­dates, run­ning boil­er­plate ads (“She’s a fighter!” “She’s for jobs!”), it has be­come some­thing else.

The Demo­crat, Kathy Hochul, though claim­ing to fa­vor smaller gov­ern­ment and deficit re­duc­tion, has seized upon the Ryan bud­get and Medi­care. In a re­cent ad, fea­tur­ing omi­nous mu­sic and dark tones, she as­serts that the Ryan bud­get, which Repub­li­can Jane Cor­win sup­ports, would “end Medi­care,” and “se­niors would have to pay $6400 more for the same cov­er­age.” Ad­di­tion­ally, the nar­ra­tor con­tin­ues, the bud­get Cor­win sup­ports would “cut taxes for the very rich” and “over­whelm­ingly ben­e­fit the rich.”

The Siena poll found Cor­win lead­ing by only 36 per­cent to 31 per­cent for Hochul in a district where Repub­li­cans have a seven-point reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tage. There are two other can­di­dates on the bal­lot as well: Jack Davis, of­ten re­ferred to as the tea party can­di­date, and Ian Mur­phy (the left­ist ac­tivist who im­per­son­ated David Koch in a phone call to Wis­con­sin Gov­er­nor Scott Walker), run­ning on the Green Party ticket. Davis is polling at 23 per­cent and Mur- phy at 1 per­cent.

So is this a case of con­ser­va­tive purists spoil­ing a race for a solid Repub­li­can? Not at all. Davis, a mil­lion­aire, has run for Congress on three pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions on the Demo­cratic ticket.

This time around, he didn’t re­ceive the en­dorse­ment of any tea party groups. But New York per­mits third-party can­di­dates to choose their bal­lot line pro­vided they can col­lect the req­ui­site sig­na­tures. Davis hired a sig­na­ture-gather­ing firm to qual­ify for the bal­lot and is now buy­ing ads to tout his fa­vorite themes: op­po­si­tion to free trade and crack­ing down on off­shore tax eva­sion. He sup­ported Barack Obama in 2008 and fa­vors abor­tions through­out the nine months of preg­nancy.

So the race ac­tu­ally con­tains three Democrats and one Repub­li­can. But that Siena poll is un­set­tling. For two lib­eral can­di­dates to be polling at a com­bined 54 per­cent in a com­fort­able Repub­li­can district is not en­cour­ag­ing. And while there are polls that sug­gest west­ern New York­ers sup­port the Ryan bud­get, it’s not en­tirely clear that vot­ers are all that con­ver­sant with the de­tails.

So far, Cor­win, who has only been in elec­toral pol­i­tics for three years, seems to be fal­ter­ing in re­sponse to the Hochul at­tacks. She’s re­leased a re­sponse that at­tacks Hochul’s record but fails to cor­rect the false charges in the Hochul ad about “end­ing” Medi­care, forc­ing se­niors to pay $6,400 for the

Democrats are choos­ing a deeply cyn­i­cal and ir­re­spon­si­ble course for a nation on the glide path to in­sol­vency.

same cov­er­age, and ap­prov­ing “tax cuts for the rich.”

Mean­while, she’s also spent pre­cious dol­lars run­ning ads un­der­min­ing Davis’ “tea party” claims. Cor­win comes across as a sen­si­ble Repub­li­can who sup­ports pri­vate en­ter­prise, wor­ries about deficits, and op­poses Oba­macare. But her in­ex­pe­ri­ence is show­ing. She doesn’t em­pha­size eco­nomic growth or of­fer a plan to boost em­ploy­ment. Hochul’s ads are far sharper, and Hochul is more con­vinc­ing talk­ing to a cam­era.

This is just one race. But if the Demo­crat man­ages an up­set by mis­rep­re­sent­ing what Repub­li­cans are ad­vo­cat­ing on Medi­care, the Repub­li­can Party may be spooked. Other Repub­li­cans may at­tempt to re­treat from Medi­care re­form just as Democrats at­tempted to back away from Oba­macare in 2010.

It’s al­ways eas­ier to tell vot­ers a com­fort­ing lie than the dis­com­fit­ing truth.

Democrats, start­ing with Pres­i­dent Obama, have de­cided to sell the fa­ble that Medi­care can be pre­served for­ever in its present form, that it can be paid for by taxes on the rich. That is false.

It is not a mat­ter of sav­ing Medi­care ver­sus giv­ing tax cuts to the rich. If Medi­care is not re­formed, it will de­vour the fed­eral bud­get.

Democrats know this, but they are choos­ing a deeply cyn­i­cal and ir­re­spon­si­ble course for a nation on the glide path to in­sol­vency.

Vot­ers can­not do the right thing if Repub­li­cans can­not ex­plain it clearly. So far, Cor­win has been stiff and unimag­i­na­tive. She needs help, fast.

Mona Charen is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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