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Lessons Learned From NY-26 Lessons Learned From NY-26

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POLITICS

Lessons Learned From NY-26

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Congresswoman elect Kathy Hochul campaigns in this undated photo from the Kathy Hochul for Congress.(Kathy Hochul for Congress)

One GOP strategist suggested that Republicans always should have seen Hochul as the greater threat, not the free-spending independent candidate. "Hochul went unattacked that week. Corwin went off air against her the same time she started talking about Medicare, and it gave her the oxygen she needed to move on," said the strategist. The Democratic enthusiasm advantage. In some of the more Republican pockets of the district - ones that backed Republican Carl Paladino in last year's governor's race - Corwin barely eked out victories. In the Rochester suburbs of Monroe County, Corwin only won by a mere 151 votes. By contrast, when former Rep. Tom Reynolds, R.N.Y., was locked in a tight race with Davis in 2006, it was Monroe County that put him over the top. Reynolds carried the county by more than 4,800 votes. Corwin also hoped the rural areas of Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming would help her. Reynolds mopped up advantages here in 2006 too that translated to victory, but Hochul pulled within a few points of Corwin in most of these counties. That wasn't enough offset Hochul's 14-point advantage in Erie County. Corwin's subpar performance in these GOP strongholds suggests that Democrats did a much better job of motivating voters, thanks to her Medicare message. And the Tea Party anger that fueled the electorate in the 2010 midterms has evaporated. Hochul did a better job of energizing her supporters - largely on the Medicare issue - but Corwin ran a 2010-style campaign focused on jobs, the deficit and still tying Hochul to Nancy Pelosi. Those may have worked when Republicans were in the minority, but the majority party now has more of an onus to prove they were getting results, and that didn't happen. American Crossroads, which spent nearly $700,000 to help Corwin, sounded the most realistic assessment of the results: "What is clear is that this election is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that 2012 will be just like 2010. It's going to be a tougher environment, Democrats will be more competitive, and we need to play at the top of our game to win big next year." Campaigns, and candidates, matter. Special elections are very often personality driven, and the candidates' contrasting styles were evident. Hochul aggressively campaigned throughout the district. She was out at the diners shaking hands. She was at small forums. These weren't just Democratic events - there was a very good chance she'd encounter Republicans along the way, especially in this conservative district. Corwin's approach was much different -- more controlled, focused on GOP-friendly events. Corwin ran like she was the incumbent and that may have caused her to underestimate the most salient issue of the contest. Her campaign also made numerous missteps, including distancing herself from her own Assembly staffer when he was caught conducting (aggressive) oppo footage against Davis. Corwin's wealthy background also was a tough sell in blue collar district where voters were looking for someone to connect with their economic anxieties. It's harder to feel voters' pain when your own net worth is well over $58 million. As Buffalo News political reporter Jerry Zremski wrote in The New Republic, "both GOP consultants and voters complained about her designer handbags and aloof demeanor, which didn't play so well with dairy farmers suffering the ups and downs of milk prices and blue-collar Republicans in the small towns that dot the district." Scandals matter, too. We wouldn't be having this election if former Rep. Chris Lee had - literally - kept his shirt on. For that matter, we wouldn't be turning our attention to the next special election in Nevada's 2nd District in September if former GOP Sen. John Ensign hadn't had an affair that forced him to resign, allowing for Dean Heller's appointment. There's no doubt that the Republican brand was somewhat tainted after their congressman's public and salacious scandal- and it also played a role in the Democratic victory.

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