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National Democrats were united in their post-election message after their NY-26 win, issuing a flurry of statements claiming the race as a victory over Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.

Supporters chanted "Medicare" at Democrat Kathy Hocul's victory party, and she made it a centerpiece of her speech.

"We can ensure we do not decimate Medicare," Hochul said. "We will keep the promises made to our seniors who have spent their lives paying into Medicare, so they can count on health care when they need it most."

If Democrats have their way, there will be a lot more speeches along those lines come November 2012. The chairs of both legislative election committees made clear on Tuesday that they believe they have found a winning formula they intend to use elsewhere.

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Female Democratic senators are returning to a tactic that served them well when Republicans threatened a government shutdown over federal funding of abortion. They're making the case that the House GOP budget, and the male Republican legislators who are advocating its policies in debt limit talks with Democrats, are using the deficit as an excuse to pursue an anti-woman agenda.

"[T]hey have put one thing above anything else: cutting health care for women," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). "Last month they almost shut down the entire federal government in an attempt to cut off funding for health care programs for women and girls

Joining Murray were five of her female colleagues, and two male Democratic senators, Dick Blumenthal (D-CT), and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). Together, they ran through a long list of ways the GOP budget undermines women.

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Shameless hypocrisy is nothing new in politics, but it's rarely laid out as nakedly as it has been this week on Capitol Hill.

In the coming days each chamber will hold one vote on one dead-on-arrival piece of legislation, to expose divisions within the minority party. Senate Democrats will force a vote on the dead-on-arrival House GOP budget, complete with its plan to phase out Medicare. And next week, House Republicans will force a vote on a "clean" extension of the debt limit, to prove they have a mandate to tie the debt limit to significant spending cuts.

You might not be surprised to learn that the leaders of both parties have contradictory views on these messaging votes. But you wouldn't expect them to contradict themselves so quickly.

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A day after House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) confirmed that cuts to Medicare are a part of deficit reduction negotiations, progressives are out with new polling they say shows Democrats falling into a Republican trap.

The fresh numbers from Ohio, Missouri, Montana and Minnesota jibe with what national polls have shown in the past: Americans are far more concerned about job creation than they are about deficit reduction. Progressives say that shows Democrats should be leaving the deficit panic to the GOP and getting back to an agenda that protects entitlements and stimulates job growth.

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Ditching the popular spin on the right that third party challenger Jack Davis cost Republicans the NY-26 race, conservative Super PAC American Crossroads warned its supporters on Tuesday that the election is a "wake-up" call for the right.

"Republican Jane Corwin gave it her all in a very tough special election today," spokesman Jonathan Collegio said in a statement. "The debate over whether Medicare mattered more than a third-party candidate who split the Republican vote is mostly a partisan Rorschach Test. 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."

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Republicans are going to have plenty of questions about their plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program tomorrow morning after Democrats romped to an improbable victory in a special election focused almost entirely on the issue.

Democrat Kathy Hochul lead 48-43 with over 83% of the votes counted and her victory looks to be a strong one -- the Associated Press called the race within an hour of the polls closing. Corwin underperformed in key GOP counties while Hochul's margins in Democratic areas were in line with the party's high water mark in the district from 2006, a wave year that swept the Republicans out of the majority in the House and Senate. The district is normally a safe seat for Republicans and few considered it vulnerable when Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) resigned over topless photos he posted in a Craigslist personal.

Hochul's message focused relentlessly on the Paul Ryan budget, which she highlighted in ads, public statements, and debates at every opportunity. Her attacks on its cuts to Medicare benefits and its tax cuts for the wealthy proved impossible for Corwin to overcome, who tried her best to defend the GOP budget cuts before eventually giving in and falsely accusing Hochul of seeking similar cuts while muddying her own position on the plan.

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TPM is going to be covering the NY-26 results live tonight, so for those planning on joining us for the main event, here are a few things to keep an eye on.

New York's 26th district leans Republican, but Democrats have run a few competitive races in recent years, which givies us a decent picture of what a winning margin might look like tonight on the county level. Ironically, their high water mark came in 2006 when their candidate was Jack Davis, a lifelong anti-trade Republican now running as a Tea Party independent in the special election and wreaking havoc on the race.

In 2006, Democrats pulled in 48% of the vote versus 52% for Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY). Key to Davis' surprise surge were majorities in Erie County, the most populous part of the district, and Niagara County, another major population center. Those two were enough to keep it close even as Davis lost every other county, including well-populated Monroe.

In Hochul's case, she'll need to be the clear winner in Erie, where she's county clerk, and Niagara to even have a shot. She will likely need to improve significantly on the Democrats 14-point loss in Monroe county from 2006 to make up most of the remaining ground. But Hochul is lucky enough to have Davis running again, so key to her success will be whether he can take a significant chunk of the vote in the various Republican strongholds. A strong showing for Davis could give the Dems significantly more leeway -- if he runs up numbers of 15% or more, Hochul could put the race away with a weak plurality in the low to mid 40s. Corwin and her conservative supporters have spent a lot of time tearing Davis down this month, so there's a considerable amount of uncertainty as to just how much support he'll be able to turn out.

For the first time since he left office, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that he felt some disappointment in himself for failing to stop the politicized hiring process taking place in the Justice Department's honors program.

"Obviously everyone is smarter in hindsight. In hindsight you wish you would do some things differently and ... I feel disappointment in myself," Gonzales said, according to a transcript of a recent deposition, as first reported by Tony Mauro of the National Law Journal. "I, the attorney general, am ultimately responsible," Gonzales says.

Internal Justice Department reports on the honors program and the summer intern program found that officials at DOJ were biased in their selections. In 2002 for example, 100 "liberals" were nominated by various DOJ offices, but 80 percent of them were "deselected" by the screening committee.

Gonzales also goes on to discuss Monica Goodling's role in politicizing the honors program.

"I do remember distinctly thinking and probably asking: How could the White House liaison not know what kind of questions to ask? I remember thinking: Didn't anybody at the White House -- didn't anybody at the department tell her she couldn't ask these questions?" Gonzales said.

As Mauro reports, the depositions came up in a lawsuit filed on behalf of applicants to the honors program who were rejected for political or ideological reasons:

The suit as it now stands is based mainly on the Privacy Act, which bars the government from maintaining records about individuals' exercise of First Amendment rights unless authorized by law. In September 2009, Bates dismissed other claims of constitutional violations directed at the Justice Department officials personally. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages for the Privacy Act violations totalling around $250,000, based on the lower salaries they are now earning because they were not hired at Justice.


The Gonzales deposition is embedded below.

Gonzales Depo

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