By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza
For the third time in three years, the political world is looking to upstate New York for answers.
Yet again, a special election in the region has Washington abuzz about just what the political environment will be like heading into the next election.
We’ve written before about how drawing broad conclusions about the entire country from one of 435 House districts is often a fool’s errand, but there are certain lessons that will be learned during today’s special election and certain things that are worth keeping an eye on.
So as you watch the results tonight, here’s a primer to help you keep score:
* Medicare: As their candidate has taken the lead, Democrats have successfully turned this into the storyline of the race. This much is clear: GOP Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, like many other Republicans, would rather not have to talk about Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) unpopular proposal to reform Medicare. But she did have to, because her race is in May 2011, not November 2012. The question is, if she loses in a conservative district, do other Republicans finally stop dancing around the issue and abandon the Medicare idea altogether? Whether Corwin actually loses because of Medicare or not, it may be enough to scare Republicans away from the reform.
* Jack Davis: Imagine: a former Democratic nominee for the very same seat, returning as a third-party candidate and stealing votes from ... the Republican. It’s the storyline that Republicans are pitching, and it makes sense, given that Davis is running (somewhat misleadingly) on the “Tea Party” ballot line. But is he really costing the GOP votes? The last two Siena College polls on the race have shown Democrat Kathy Hochul stealing the lead largely by taking independent voters away from Davis. Davis voters also rate Hochul much more favorably than Corwin, which suggests they wouldn’t have voted for the Republican anyways. If Republicans lose, they will blame Davis. He’s fading pretty significantly in the polls, though, so it remains to be scene whether that alibi will even work.
* Turnout: This is always something to watch for in a special election. Republicans acknowledge that the environment has shifted since November, but just how much? This is, after all, a district that voted more than 60 percent for the Republican candidate in last year’s governor’s race. If the GOP’s vote share drops to around 40 percent or lower, that’s not good news, no matter how you slice it.
* Polling: Polling in special elections is notoriously quirky and difficult, and neither side is declaring victory just yet. Just look back at the last special election in upstate New York, when the eventual loser led by 15 points in one poll on the last weekend of the race. Or the Pennsylvania race last year, when the Democrat won by eight points after late polling showed a dead heat. Given Davis’s role in the race and the low turnout, polling is difficult and shouldn’t be over-estimated.
* Democratic recruiting: One remnant of 2010 is that it’s still much easier for Republicans to recruit candidates. But if people start believing that the environment is shifting back in Democrats’ favor, that could reap major gains on the recruiting trail. After all, top-tier candidates don’t want to spend time running unless they think they can win. And with their redistricting disadvantage, recruiting is particularly difficult for Democrats right now. This could be the shot in the arm they need.
Sanchez to run for Senate in N.M.: The Republican Senate primary in New Mexico is about to get crowded, with Lt. Gov. John Sanchez joining the fray.
Sources confirm Sanchez will announce his candidacy Tuesday by issuing a statement at 10 a.m. eastern time. Sanchez joins former Rep. Heather Wilson as the GOP frontrunners. Former congressional candidate Greg Sowards as also running.
Sanchez is expected to run to the moderate congresswoman’s right in the primary.
The Democrats also have a primary on their hands, with Rep. Martin Heinrich and state Auditor Hector Balderas both running.
Perry allies say answer still “no”... for now: There is considerable chatter that Rick Perry might rethink his past refusals to run for president in 2012, but two men close to him insist nothing has changed in the Texas governor’s thinking in recent days, while still leaving the door slightly open to a bid.
“Some of the political speculators have valid and perhaps persuasive points, but the governor’s message has not changed,” said Perry chief of staff Ray Sullivan in an e-mail to The Fix. “In any event, Gov. Perry is preoccupied with the last week of what should be a very successful Texas legislative session.”
Mike Baselice, Perry’s pollster, echoed that sentiment. “[Gov.] Perry is busy with the Texas legislative session, and enjoys being governor.”
The Texas legislature is slated to end its session May 30. Don’t expect Perry to say anything more definitive about 2012 until then.
Ruck.us launches: Two Democratic operatives — Nathan Daschle and Ray Glendening — have launched Ruck.us, a new site designed to “give a home to the politically homeless,” according to Daschle.
Using either a Facebook or Twitter sign in, a user is prompted to pick a handful of issues considered most important to them and then to take a profile quiz designed to fine-tune where an individual comes down on each issue.
Communities are then created, connecting people online through common issue sets rather than a specific political party.
“The plain truth is that America has outgrown its two parties, and our hope is that Ruck.us can use technology to provide a more contemporary and meaningful avenue for political engagement,” said Daschle.
Daschle is a former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association; Glendening served as political director at the DGA in the 2010 election and also spent time at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Elizabeth Warren wooed for Senate: Democratic Party officials are hoping to get Elizabeth Warren to run against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) next year, rather than run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The Harvard Law School professor is currently helping set up the CFPB, but many Republicans in Congress are opposed to her becoming its director. If Warren ran for Senate instead, it would give Democrats a chance to compromise with the GOP on nominations while fielding a strong candidate against a popular incumbent.
Newton Mayor Setti Warren (no relation to Elizabeth Warren), City Year founder Alan Khazei, and activist Bob Massie are all in the Senate race, but none are as high-profile as Warren. Liberal bloggers launched a ”Draft Elizabeth Warren” petition in February.
Nevada ballot limits: Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller on Monday extended the filing period in the 2nd congressional district special election to June 30, complying with an order from a state court to delay the process. Minor parties and independent candidates had to file signatures to get on the ballot by May 18.
The judge called Miller’s reasoning in declaring a free-for-all election “unreasonable and absurd” and called for candidates to be chosen by party nomination. Lawyers for the Nevada attorney general’s office plan to appeal.
- Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is holding a telephone town hall with GOPAC Chairman Frank Donatelli tonight at 7 p.m.
- The Wisconsin state election board on Monday certified Supreme Court Justice David Prosser as the winner of his reelection race. The conservative Prosser narrowly overcame a concerted campaign from labor groups angry about Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) reforms.
- Texas is running out of time to pass its congressional redistricting plan, despite large Republican majorities in the legislature and a GOP governor, and some are conceding that the maps will have to be drawn by the courts.
- The White House has added a new position in its press shop for rapid response.
- Newt Gingrich’s claim that his no-interest charge account at Tiffany’s was normal doesn’t pass the smell test.
- Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is still considering runnning for president.
- “States toughen ID rules for voters” — Amy Merrick, Wall Street Journal
- “Issa Promised Tough, but So Far Oversight Isn’t” — Anna Palmer, CQ-Roll Call
- “Obama in fundraising frenzy” — Fredreka Schouten, USA Today
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.