Washington (CNN) - As two of the three candidates in a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat in upstate New York get ready to debate, another major national political organization has jumped into the ad wars, another sign that a once semi-obscure local election is now firmly in the national spotlight.
The candidates, Republican state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin and Democrat Kathleen Hochul face off Thursday morning. The other person in the contest, tea party candidate Jack Davis, a conservative Democrat, has backed out of the debate, and says both Corwin and Hochul are lying about his record.
The winner of the May 24th special election will fill the seat of Republican Rep. Chris Lee, who quickly resigned in April hours after the gossip website Gawker posted photos and e-mails from the married Congressman soliciting a date with a woman through the website Craigslist.
The National Republican Congressional Committee's independent expenditure group on Wednesday made an ad purchase of around $265,000 in Buffalo and Rochester, backing Corwin.
The independent expenditure units of the re-election parties conduct TV and radio advertising, as well as direct mail, polling and get out the vote efforts.
The NRCC ad buy supplements their other initiatives in the contest, which include internet efforts and nightly phone banks.
An outside conservative 527 organization, American Crossroads, has already started airing TV commercials in support of Corwin in the Buffalo and Rochester markets. The weeklong $350,000 buy started Wednesday. Crossroads says they may spend more money on the contest.
Here's another sign of how important this contest is to the GOP: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia also made trips to the district to campaign for Corwin in recent days.
Republican voters greatly outnumber Democratic voters in New York's 26th congressional district that includes suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester. Then-Republican presidential nominee John McCain won the district by six points in 2008 and Lee won re-election by a three to one margin last November. But recent polls suggest the contest is competitive between Corwin and Hochul.
Top House Democrats say the close race is evidence that House Republicans' support for a proposal to dramatically change Medicare is already hurting GOP candidates with voters. Asked about the impact of the Medicare issue on the New York race, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Wednesday, "That certainly is a race that was not in play and now it is."
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey was more blunt, predicting the issue is producing blowback for Republicans not just in New York.
"Medicare has razor-blade-sharp edges and it's drawing political blood in New York, as it's going to across this country," Markey said.
The House Republican 2012 budget, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, passed the House last month without a single Democratic vote and included a proposal to overhaul Medicare. Under the plan, the government would no longer directly pay medical costs for those 55 and younger, but instead would offer subsidies for seniors to use to get private health insurance coverage. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll indicated that 49 percent of Americans prefer President Obama's approach on Medicare, with four in ten favoring the GOP proposals on Medicare.
Republicans disagree that the race is close because of Medicare.
Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the House Republicans' campaign arm, said the race is close because of the impact of Davis, the third-party candidate.
"This race is close because Republican Jane Corwin is running against two Democrats, one of whom is deceiving voters by claiming to be a Tea Party candidate," Lindsay said.
There's a similar message from FreedomWorks. The independent conservative grassroots group, which has organized many of the larger tea party movement events over the past two years, is launching a campaign to expose "Jack Davis's record as a big government liberal."
Thursday FreedomWorks officially endorsed Corwin.
Republicans aren't the only ones putting up ads in the district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced a $250,000 TV ad buy Wednesday, according to a Democratic source. And an independent Democratic leaning group is weighing its options.
Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for House Majority PAC, a new independent Democratic leaning group, says the organization "is keeping extremely close tabs on this race."