Tuesday there was a special election in New York to fill the seat of Representative Christopher Lee, who resigned after posting compromising photographs of himself on the web. The district is heavily Republican (+6), and yet the Democratic candidate came from behind and won. How did that happen?
Some people will claim that it was because in addition to the Republican candidate, there was a Tea Party candidate who received 9% of the vote. And indeed, if all of those votes had gone to the GOP, the Republican would have won. But there is no guarantee that Tea Party voters would always vote Republican any more.
As Nate Silver points out, even if all those Tea Party votes had gone to the Republican, it would have been a bad night for them. The Republican would have won (in a heavily GOP district) but not by nearly as much as they should have. The GOP should have held that seat by 12 points, but instead they lost it by 6.
The reason? The Democrats ran against Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which included huge changes to Medicare. No Republican dares criticize Ryan’s proposal, even if it means death to their election chances — we saw what happened when Newt Gingrich mildly criticized it. The irony is that this proposal has absolutely no chance of being implemented, so why would any politician sacrifice their career for it?
Will we see open revolt in the normally lock-step Republican rank and file? For their sake, I hope so.