Celebrating House Win, Left Hopes Political Winds Have Shifted

Progressives woke up Wednesday celebrating Democrat Kathy Hochul’s victory for a House seat from upstate New York previously held by the GOP for decades. In Hochul’s success, they see a fresh opportunity for wider gains to reverse the drubbing Democrats took in the 2010 midterm elections.

Hochul beat Republican state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin 48 percent to 42 percent, with an independent candidate pulling up the rear.

The Democrat won Tuesday’s special election for a vacant seat in New York’s conservative 26th Congressional District by linking Corwin to the Washington Republicans’ plan to privatize Medicare.

Progressives say they also see the victory as a wider repudiation of the GOP drive to cut taxes for the wealthy and limit the federal government’s ability to deliver services for the middle class.

Alan Charney, policy and strategic director for USAction, a Washington advocacy organization, sees Hochul’s win as part of an emerging pattern, noting that Republicans have lost several other recent special elections, as well.

“In state after state, voters are telling us they want an end to tax cuts for the super-rich,” he says. “They want an end to corporate loopholes. And most importantly, they want to preserve Medicare and the vital services that are key to maintaining a healthy, vibrant middle class. For voters, the massive cuts that are happening at the state level and in Congress mark their season of discontent.”

Besides New York, conservatives have lost three special elections in as many weeks. In Wisconsin, a Democrat captured a General Assembly seat that had been held by Republicans for more than a decade. In Maine, a Democrat beat her opponent for a state Senate seat by more than 30 percentage points. And in New Hampshire, a Democrat easily captured a state House district that was ranked as the 16th strongest Republican district in the state.

“Yesterday, voters in Western New York sent a strong message that Medicare needs to be protected, that tax cuts for billionaires and big corporations won’t be accepted, and that in order to make our communities stronger, we must come together to build an economy that works for everyone,” says Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York. “Kathy Hochul’s election to Congress doesn’t just mean that New York will have another great representative in Washington. Her election also proves a public desire for a government that puts its people before corporate profits.”

Ultimately, Charney says, the recent elections send a message: voters cherish the freedom that comes from opportunity and prosperity. “Freedom is about a fair wage, a decent life and hope for the future,” he says. “Programs like Medicare and Social Security help secure our freedom by protecting our dignity if we get sick and as we grow older.”

Another prominent Washington progressive group, Democracy For America (DFA), sees Tuesday’s win as further evidence Democrats should stand up against the conservative agenda pushed by House Republicans.

DFA Communications Director Levana Layendecker also cites a poll of voters in four states which she says finds opposition to cuts in such social programs as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“Hochul won last night because she listened to voters that were telling her that what they really wanted Congress to do, above everything else, was to focus on jobs and protecting popular programs they depend on,” she says in an email which urges supporters to pressure House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to take Medicare cuts off the bargaining table.

“It’s clear from our poll and from last night’s election results that if more Democrats follow Hochul’s lead, they will win in 2012 — and if they fall into the GOP’s trap by voting to cut Medicare benefits, they will suffer dire consequences in the next election,” she says.

If this new political dynamic holds, it could represent a dramatic shift back to the favor of Democrats, who lost control of the House last year due largely to tea party-fueled anger.

Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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