Campaign 2010

May 27, 2011

Buffalo News: Hochul gains odds-defying victory

Buffalo News

Kathleen Courtney Hochul, the Erie County clerk and longtime Democratic figure who defied political experts who had given her little chance of success, ground out a stunning and surprisingly comfortable victory Tuesday in the special election for the House seat in the predominantly Republican 26th Congressional District.

Hochul defeated Republican Jane L. Corwin, a Clarence assemblywoman, 47 percent to 43 percent, with 97 percent of election districts reporting, while the Tea Party's Jack Davis mustered only 9 percent in his fourth try for the seat. Ian L. Murphy of the Green Party recorded 1 percent, while overall turnout was about 25 percent.

The results marked a stunning defeat for the GOP in a contest that garnered intense national attention as the first competitive race following the Republican takeover of the House in last November's elections. And as a jubilant Hochul took the stage at her headquarters at the UAW Hall in Amherst at about 10:30 p.m., she reminded supporters about the core of her campaign — controversial proposals by the GOP to revamp Medicare.

"We had the issues on our side," Hochul said. "We can balance the budget the right way and not on the backs of our seniors.

"It's the future seniors they went after," she added. "They didn't like that, did they?"

And her victory was duly noted in statements by President Obama and Vice President Biden.

"I want to extend my congratulations to Congresswoman-elect Kathy Hochul for her victory in New York's 26th Congressional District. Kathy and I both believe that we need to create jobs, grow our economy and reduce the deficit in order to out-compete other nations and win the future," the president said.

"Kathy has shown, through her victory and throughout her career, that she will fight for the families and businesses in Western New York, and I look forward to working with her when she gets to Washington."

Biden called to congratulate Hochul, the vice president's office said, adding that he and Hochul would meet for a discussion soon.

Hochul later told reporters that the voters cast ballots for the person and not the party in the primarily Republican 26th District.

"The voters of this district have sent me to Washington because I said I'm willing to fight for them on Medicare, make sure the lobbyists pay for their fair share and get our budget under control," she said. "Whatever happens nationally, I'm very focused on my new district.

"The question is: Did I have the confidence and faith of Republicans, Democrats and independents who listened to our message loud and clear? We're going to protect seniors, we're going to protect the middle class and small businesses."

Hochul, who lives outside the district, in Hamburg, has said she plans to move into a suburb within the district as soon as possible.

While the seat has a long GOP pedigree, it became vacant on Feb. 9 when Rep. Chris Lee, R-Amherst, abruptly resigned after a gossip website posted photos of him posing shirtless while seeking dates on the Internet.

After Republican proposals to overhaul Medicare made the race a focus of national attention, Hochul began inching past Corwin in the polls, and Davis' strong 23 percent support withered considerably. By Monday, Corwin seemed to acknowledge what Election Day would bring when she said she should have countered the Democratic assault on her Medicare stand earlier.

Corwin offered a concession speech late Tuesday at her headquarters on Transit Road in Amherst, which will apparently render moot a court order she sought earlier in the day to impound voting equipment.

"I told her I would be happy to help in any way I can to help Western New York," the Republican said in her concession speech.

Corwin made a point of expressing unhappiness with the negative tone of her race with Hochul.

"The discourse in this election leaves me concerned," she told the crowd of supporters.

The national implications became apparent only minutes after The Buffalo News and other news organizations declared Hochul's victory when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., welcomed the new congresswoman as an "independent, strong, passionate voice."

"Kathy Hochul's victory tonight is a tribute to Democrats' commitment to preserve and strengthen Medicare, create jobs, and grow our economy," Pelosi said. "And it sends a clear message that will echo nationwide: Republicans will be held accountable for their vote to end Medicare."

But Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the nation should not make too much out of a three-way race.

"To predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky," Sessions said. "History shows one important fact: The results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes.

"If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010."

Tuesday's election was the first congressional special election in Western New York since Stan Lundine's Southern Tier district victory in February 1976.

Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus, who campaigned locally for Corwin earlier this month, also sounded a GOP response.

"If we have learned anything from these results, it is that Democrats will stop at nothing to preserve the status quo in Washington, which is propelling our country towards bankruptcy," he said. "Kathy Hochul's reckless disregard for the looming insolvency of critical government programs and our crushing debt will allow her to feel right at home in Nancy Pelosi's Democrat caucus.

"There is no question Kathy Hochul will have a tough time holding onto this seat in 2012, with Barack Obama and his failed economic leadership weighing heavily on the minds of Western New York voters when they return to the polls," he added.

The results forced Davis to make a concession speech for the fourth time in the last nine years at his Brennan's Bowery Bar headquarters in Clarence. He said he will continue to fight against free trade and "take the battle to Washington."

"The country needs me," he said. "We're leaving our children in debt and poverty, and people are eventually going to get the message that the present politicians in Washington are being bought by the free traders and the Wall Street bankers and the multinational corporations.

"I didn't get the message out this time," he added. "I'll keep shouting it. I love America."

When asked about another future run for office, Davis was noncommittal, saying that regardless of his position, he'd continue to preach his message to whomever will listen. He also said that despite the "lies" and underhanded tactics in this campaign, he feels spending $3 million as a candidate for the congressional seat was worth it.

Hochul's election means a vacancy occurs in the County Clerk's Office, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could opt to fill with an appointment. A special election to fill the balance of the three-year term would occur in November.

One prominent name being mentioned is Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga.

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