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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Democratic upset in New York could expose liability of Medicare votes in Florida

Democrats are ecstatic tonight after taking a House seat in what had been a safe Republican district in western New York. And the results could chasten Republicans in Florida.

"Voters stand up 4 Medicare!" tweeted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of South Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The race turned on the GOP's plan to convert Medicare into a voucher program -- to end Medicare "as we know it," the refrain Democrats hammered away for weeks. It appears to have worked. “The privatization of Medicare scares me,” Pat Gillick, a Republican who voted for Democrat Kathy Hochul, told the New York Times.

The race was closely watched and could portend problems for Republicans nationally. In retirement rich Florida, all 19 Republicans voted for the budget plan that included the overhaul. (Hochul's mom lives in Florida and phone banked "for months," her daughter said in a victory speech.)

Republicans and some analysts, however, caution reading too much into a single race.

"The debate over whether Medicare mattered more than a third-party candidate who split the Republican vote is mostly a partisan Rorschach Test," said Steven Law, CEO of the conservative group American Crossroads, which invested heavily in the race. "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.”

The seat, in Republican hands for decades, opened up when incumbent Rep. Chris Lee abruptly resigned after shirtless photos of him turned up on the Internet. Corwin was widely expected to win the special election. But then came the April vote on the budget plan. The dynamic shifted to Hochul, setting off a frenzy attracting national attention from both parties and millions of dollars in advertising.

The New York defeat is also a loss for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who endorsed Republican Jane Corwin and made a robo call. (Rubio's now 0-2, having also endorsed in the Jacksonville mayor's race, which Democrat Alvin Brown won.) Tea party favorite Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, also endorsed in New York.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 12:57pm]


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