For Democrats, the race has proved an encouraging sign for their messaging on the Republican plan to cut and privatize Medicare, as Democrat Kathy Hochul is leading in the polls despite the district's Republican lean. Even if the GOP holds the seat, Republican Jane Corwin has clearly been on the defensive over the issue during the final stretch, at one point misleadingly attributing the GOP's entitlement cuts to Hochul in ads.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) highlighted the race in his weekly pen and pad briefing with reporters on Tuesday, saying the district is normally a "slam dunk" for Republicans that has been put into play by the Paul Ryan budget.
"The election is today and it is clear from the polls that this is a very close race, a race that should not be anything other than an assumed Republican big victory," he said. "It is clear as well that the reason for this is the Republican budget and the proposal to end Medicare as we know it and end the guarantee for seniors for health care coverage."
But depending on whether Hochul wins and by how much, Republicans may have a decent counterargument. Self-funded -- and wealthy -- Tea Party candidate Jack Davis has been taking a large chunk of the vote in polls and it's certainly plausible that tonight's results could see Davis and Corwin combined add up to significantly more votes than Hochul. Expect to hear plenty about Davis' impact tomorrow from the right if Hochul wins.
"Special elections are called special for a reason, and ones that include a self-funding Democrat masquerading as a Tea Party candidate make for a highly unusual race," NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek told TPM. "Jack Davis' presence is the only reason why a candidate as flawed as Kathy Hochul could find herself in a competitive position in this district."
While the GOP has a legitimate point, observers note that Hochul has been rising in the polls even as Davis has been falling, suggesting that his base of support can't be written off as simply disaffected Republicans and conservative voters. Polls also confirm that Medicare is the top issue in the race -- and its certainly gotten the most local media attention -- giving Democrats additional evidence that their attacks are working. NRCC chair Pete Sessions is reportedly pessimistic on the party's chances of holding the seat given the latest numbers.