Democrat Kathy Hochul wins.
1. Again, I remain baffled by the Ryan budget, and in particular by the gratuitous destruction of Medicare written into it. What the hell were the House Republicans thinking?
Then again, I guess we should remember that the Village idiots in Washington are still convinced that the Ryan deficit reduction plan was "gutsy" and "adult" even though it doesn't even lower the deficit. This is perhaps a lesson more in the incredible classism of the Washington cocktail circuit than anything else. They're the only people in the country who appear entirely unbothered by a plan to replace Medicare with vouchers that won't even cover the cost of insurance.
It also exposes a curious blind spot among even conscientious conservatives like Andrew Sullivan and David Frum. How do you look at a deficit plan like the Ryan one, one with exactly zero options for revenue growth, one that includes a tax cut for rich people, and that boots the elderly into the private insurance system with nothing but an inadequate and slowly depreciating voucher, one that's composed almost entirely of longstanding right wing boilerplate, and come to the conclusion that it's "adult" and "serious?" How can one as concerned as Sullivan is with critical introspection be so blind to such obvious fraud in pursuit of class warfare?
2. I want to take a few moments to ground the various narratives regarding this race in a little reality. The Democrats are contending that they won a "heavily Republican" district that the GOP has held since 1960. NY-26 is an R+6 district, meaning they generally vote about 6 points more for Republican presidential candidates than Democratic ones. That's hardly a bellwether district, but still a pretty moderate conservative edge compared to what many of us think of when we think "Republican district." For reference, it has the same partisan rating as MI-3 (Grand Rapids). IN-2 (South Bend) is only an R+2. TX-19 (Lubbock and Abilene) is R+26.
I will also point out that the district had a Democratic representative from '93 to '03, so the line about "the Republicans holding it since the '60's" just isn't true.
3. My other major point is that it's easy to overstate the predictive power of special elections. Pete Session (R-TX) is right when he says, “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,” though that's not exactly what Republicans were saying after the Scott Brown victory. Every district has its idiosyncrasies and local issues even when larger national debates subsume the race.
Of more interest to those looking for a better Democratic year is the generic congressional ballot, which flipped back to the Democrats last week after being solidly Republican for the last two years:
The generic ballot's predictive value is similarly limited, but it's at least a more accurate sampling of national opinion than a single House election.
It's entirely possible that the Democrats will have a good year in 2012, and certainly better than the last one. We're still a year and a half out, though, and these elections turn pretty quickly on current economic and political trends. Until we have a better sense of what the economy is going to look like in October 2012, and how that economy is going to be reported, I don't think there's much point in forecasting.
That being said, there is one race that's much closer: the GOP presidential primary. Nate Silver has already demonstrated that Republican presidential candidates leading 6 months out from the primaries usually win (though, interestingly, not Democratic ones). Polls currently show Mitt Romney with a significant lead over everyone but Mike Huckabee, who isn't running. I know, it's hard to imagine Mitt Romney winning, but it's not really any easier to see Gingrich, Pawlenty, Huntsman, Paul, Cain, or Santorum winning, either. The Republicans have to nominate somebody!