A month ago, this May 24 special election looked like an easy hold for the Republicans; it's an R+6 district, one that resisted both Democratic waves (re-electing Mark Foley-scandal-tainted Tom Reynolds in '06 and electing Chris Lee to an open seat in '08)... and if Republican nominee Jane Corwin ran into any trouble, she had $158 million of her own money to put towards the race. However, Corwin sailed her yacht right into a perfect storm, of a) the independent candidacy of cantankerous Republican-turned-Democrat-turned "Tea Party" independent Jack Davis splitting right-of-center votes, and b) the albatross of Paul Ryan's Medicare-gutting budget getting hung around her neck.
The perpetual third rail of Medicare has turned out to be the defining issue of the campaign both on the airwaves and on the ground, and that's helping the Democrat in the race, Kathy Hochul. Apparently, internal polls are showing Hochul narrowly leading; we don't have specific numbers, but handicappers Nathan Gonzales and Dave Wasserman both allude to such polls in their newly-revised ratings of the race. Both note that while Davis's numbers seem to have suffered in the face of GOP attacks, his supporters haven't cottoned to Corwin, which accounts for Hochul's continued small advantage.
Needless to say, establishment Republicans are scrambling to salvage the once-sure-thing. That starts with Corwin herself, who just loaned her campaign another $500,000 on Friday, bringing her own total investment in the race to $2.4 million. The NRCC showed up with the $426K independent expenditure they'd promised last week. GOP dark money group the American Action Network is getting involved with mailers and online marketing, and now rumors are bubbling up that perhaps the biggest behind-the-scenes player, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is about to weigh in on the TV airwaves. Finally, Tea Party Express (the Beltway co-opters of the tea party movement) has been running radio ads against Davis, assuming that Davis voters will switch to Corwin, and is now moving to get involved in the ground war too, hosting press conferences in the district to accuse Davis of "tea party fraud."
So what does all that money get you? At this point, it looks like a couple of retread ads that have an almost-visible sheen of flop sweat on them. The newest ad from the Corwin camp tries to duck the Medicare issue by saying, no, the Democrats were the ones who wanted to cut Medicare. And the NRCC, with its first TV ad, goes back to the Nancy Pelosi well, invoking the terrifying specter of the... minority leader?!? These would be effective ads if this were still, say, 2010, but they don't seem to have noticed that the battlefield has already been reset since then.
On the Dem side, better late that never: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is finally getting around to backing Hochul, although I'm not sure what he's doing beyond saying that much. Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer and James Carville are sending around e-mail fundraising blasts for Hochul. The Communication Workers of America is pouring $75K in independent expenditures into the race for mailers, and, on a much larger scale, the House Majority super PAC (one of the Dems' first attempts to get on a level playing field on the dark money front) is going to be going on TV with anti-Corwin ads this week.
One other bit of good news for Hochul: she seems to be winning the battle of the endorsements from the major newspapers in the area. She's gotten the backing of the Buffalo News, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Greece Post. The News cuts to the chase:
But Hochul has a more rounded grasp on the role of government in the 21st century. She understands health care for seniors to be an appropriate federal issue, while Corwin does not. More conservative than even many Republicans in Western New York, Corwin holds a pinched view of Washington's role in public life, restricting it to issues such as defense, transportation and food safety.