(NEW YORK) -- In what can be taken as the first referendum on the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, Democrat Kathy Hochul picked up a Republican seat in Western New York thanks in part to her ability to attach GOP candidate Jane Corwin to the budget's restructuring of Medicare.
The surprise upset in New York's 26th congressional district is likely to be seen by many as a bellwether for 2012.
Tuesday's special election was held to replace Republican Rep. Chris Lee, who resigned after a shirtless photo of him was leaked to the press by a woman the married Lee met, and flirted with, on Craigslist.
Corwin's last-minute appeal to voters, and hundreds of thousands in dollars from outside conservative groups, did little to improve the assemblywoman's chances in the Republican-leaning district.
The race was initially considered a shoo-in for Corwin.
The last Democrat to be elected from the district left office eight years ago, and only three Democrats have won in this area in the past century. New York's 26th was one of just four districts in the state that voted for John McCain over Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
But Hochul made Ryan's Medicare plan, which would overhaul the program from the way it exists now, the key issue of her campaign. Hochul portrayed Corwin, a multimillionaire, as a Republican insider who would help end Medicare.
In a district where the elderly make up 15 percent to 20 percent of the population, the message carried weight.
Although observers warn against looking too much at the special election as a forecast for 2012, Democrats were quick to tout the win as a referendum on Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial Medicare plan.
Within the GOP, the election is likely to ignite debate on how to handle the issue that could come back to bite them in 2012. The Medicare issue has already divided the party, with many -- like Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. -- saying they won't vote for Ryan's budget.
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