(CNN) - A new poll released Saturday shows the Democratic candidate now has a slight lead – a four point advantage among likely voters – over the Republican in a special congressional election in Western New York that has attracted the national spotlight.
Democrats are hoping to frame Tuesday’s election in NY-26 as the first test of their strategy to make the House GOP budget that includes a plan to overhaul Medicare a political liability for Republicans in the 2012 elections.
The Siena College poll indicates Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul is now ahead with 42 percent in the poll, and the Republican, State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, with 38 percent. The third party candidate, Jack Davis, the Tea Party candidate, has 12 percent. The lead for Hochul is within the poll’s 4-point margin of error.
When Republican Congressman Chris Lee resigned in February after a gossip website posted a shirtless picture and emails from the married father seeking a romantic meeting with a woman, few in this district – and even in Washington – expected much of a contest to replace him with another Republican. But fast forward a couple of months, and the race is being closely watched as a political barometer of the issues voters are focused on this year.
The sprawling Western New York district is reliably red – voting for Republicans in the last three presidential elections. But the Siena poll shows voters in the district say the most important issue to them is Medicare, over the budget deficit and jobs.
Immediately after the House passed the House Republican budget in April that includes their proposal to dramatically change Medicare, House Democrats promised to make that vote an issue in the 2012 elections. The GOP plan converts the health care program for seniors from one that directly covers costs for care into one that provides subsidies to seniors to purchase health care coverage through private plans. It keeps the current system for those 55 and older, but for those 55 and younger, the structure of the Medicare program would significantly change.
Even though Corwin didn't personally vote for the proposal, Hochul's central message over the past several weeks is that her Republican opponent supports the plan. In the second and final debate between the Democrat and the Republican earlier this week, it seemed as though Hochul was running against the author of the GOP Medicare plan, House Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, instead of Corwin.
Hochul told CNN in an interview, "Jane Corwin has 100 percent embraced the Paul Ryan budget. Even when Republicans in Washington are running away from it – she's been asked again and again, and she continues to support it."
Corwin defended her support of the GOP plan, telling CNN, "Medicare certainly is an important issue to our seniors, and that's why I'm working so hard for a program that will protect Medicare and also make sure the program is around for future generations."
While she said she supported the Ryan plan, Corwin also noted, "there are clearly some problems with it as well," and pledged she would push for legislation to cover the so-called "donut hole" in coverage for prescription drug costs that would still occur under the plan.
The Republican candidate insisted that while the Republican-led House was working to tackle entitlement reforms so future seniors will have benefits, the Democrats are simply ignoring the major challenge to instead play politics with the issue.
"Isn't that such the career politician thing to do, kick the can down the road?" Corwin said at the debate.
Davis, the third party candidate, acknowledged Medicare is dominating the conversation in the race, but he insists the real issue voters here care about is the economy.
"The way to solve the debt problem is to put people back to work. If everybody was working, we wouldn't have had the recession, we wouldn't have lost the homes," Davis told CNN. The business owner repeated his message, saying, "All we have to do to solve all of America's problems is to put Americans back to work."
In a sign of what's at stake politically, outside groups and national party committees are pouring money into the race, cluttering up the local airwaves with attack ads. According to the Sunlight Foundation, up to now, these groups have spent close to $2 million so far on the special election. In addition, Corwin and Davis have spent millions of their own money on the race.
Both sides are mobilizing their field operations, with national party committees busing in volunteers to knock on doors in the final weekend.
Last week House Speaker John Boehner traveled to the district to raise money for Corwin and New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer campaigned with Hochul.
This weekend the state's other Democratic Senator, Kristin Gillibrand, is stumping for the Democratic candidate.
Nearby state parties are making calls into the district urging supporters to get to the polls for the election on Tuesday. Republicans are concerned that Davis, who is a former Democrat, but was able to get enough signatures to run on the ballot as the Tea Party candidate, is drawing conservative support from Corwin.
Earlier this week two Florida Republicans with ties to the Tea Party – Rep. Allen West and Sen. Marco Rubio – recorded robo-calls supporting Corwin.
Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, national Democrats are already proclaiming victory for forcing the GOP to spend resources on a race in a district that they should have been able to keep in their column. But while Democrats were quick to tout their victories in three special elections before the 2010 midterm cycle, they went on to lose control of the House.
–CNN Congressional Correspondent Kate Bolduan contributed to this story
any one who has brain votes for Democrat...under current situation....o.k, Gas needs to come down, focus on energy efficiency, stringent immigration....nation is under attack with these menace....dollar needs to be strong...not week dollar nation affords...
It's time for Democrats to get off their behinds and go to work winning elections and stop sitting on their hands waiting for President Obama to do all the lifting to get them elected. The Republicans would have never won Congress if Democrats hadn't just handed it to them.
I hole the Republican take It for what It worth when the Democrats win May 24 In New York. I hope they take It that the American People Don't like the Paul Ryan Plan, We try and tell you with all these Town hall meeting you Republican had. And you keep saying the Democrats are not listening to the American People. But In fact It You Republican are the One who are NOT LISTENING TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE and you better start pretty dam soon. We all so don't want you to hole the DEPT CEILING AS BLACKMAIL TO TRY AND GET WHAT YOU WANT. What You Republican really need to do Is quit Listening to the TEA Baggier nut cases. Because If you don't the rest of you Republican Will go In 2012 as many as we can.
When are all the angry old white ppl in town hall meetings complaining to their congress reps about the republican plans to reduce medicare benefits? When the right wing media peddled lies aboutt he health care reform tweaking medicare hunreds of these "concerned" citizens thronged the town halls, what about now? As often is the case, democrats don't need to tell lies, just take the republican budget plan to voters as it is. It's clear how much these thugs are out of synch with the main stream and are in big buusiness pockets.
If Democrats win this election, will Paul Ryan be forced to apologize to Gingrich and the GOP for killing their chances in 2012?
People are sick of the GOP...the governors...Eric pretty boy Cantor, John the crybaby Boner, Paul Ryan...Mitchie boy McConnell...you guys suck! RIP GOP, it's too late for us moderate Rep. to support a darn thing you propose.
I was wondering how long it would be before the public got tired of the Rethugs. Seems like that didn't take long. What the Rethugs don't get is that their Tea Party masters want them to get rid of things that don't affect them. Well now they are learning that this is probably not really possible. They don't seem to get that if more Americans were working, more people could contribute to the things America needs and the burden on each of us will go down. The Republicans promised jobs but have not delivered. They have, instead, sought to disenfranchise unions and have poked the eyes of seniors who have worked for years and paid into Medicare and Social Security expecting they would have this money when the retired. Boehner, where are the jobs you people ran on?
Allen West told his townhall that "when Medicare is gone I'll take my hands off of it" That clip would be perfect to show after his robocall. Down the wingnuts go on this issue all over the country not just in NY .
The debate between the two last week was great! I would vote for the DEM.....she was way more down to earth and a moderate in her views.......Corwin kept doubling down on the Paul Ryan plan to destroy medicare and replace it with a voucher system.
Wow so republicans preach against government entitlements but don't want anything done to Medicare?
hurray for new york. new york is in the house.
How's that Ryan voucher coupon plan to privatize Medicare working out for you GOP? Ask Newt again how he REALLY feels about the Neo-Con Radical Right-wing Social Engineering agenda. Have a nice day.
The people of MINESOTA tried giving the republicans a break and Voted in THE GOP and now their collective bargaining rights for law enforcement and teacher and child education is in jeopardy -the Gop is for the rich and doesnt care at all for the middle class but that is my opinion and I COULD BE WRONG but I doubt it"
Anyone supporting RyanCare had better watch out! Obama's health care reform passed last year helped alot of people, alot of families, protected alot of people. Ryans plan doesn't help ANYONE! If you're over 55, you're safe, but all the rest of us are screwed. Also, people over 55 have family members under 55 and they don't want them to be screwed out of Medicare. What Newt said to David Gregory about Ryans plan was true. You republicans are in big trouble, you won in 2010 because you promised to focus on jobs and have done more damage to the people of your states while helping the rich and corporations!