Democrats are already trying to spin their victory in the special election in western New York's 26th Congressional election as a broader repudiation of Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan, but past special elections have not been all that predictive.
NY-26 should be a safe Republican district and seemed likely to remain in GOP hands after the seat was vacated by former Rep. Chris Lee after his Craigslist shirtless photo scandal. But tonight Democrat Kathy Hochul pulled off the victory, garnering 48 percent of the vote, to 43 percent for Republican Jane Corwin and 9 percent for Tea Party candidate (and once Democratic candidate) Jack Davis.
But in 2009 and 2010, Republicans had a string off losses in special elections that lead the media to question weather it bode poorly for their chances of retaking the House majority. For instance, "Dismal special election record could hamper Republicans' 2010 comeback" read a Hill headline in October 2009. After a Republicans lost a May 2010 special election to replace deceased Jack Murtha, the New York Times write a story headlined, "Democrats See Hope for Fall in Victory in House Race."
Now, obviously, Medicare played a role in the New York special election, and there's no need for conservatives to dismiss the fact that it's a volatile issue. Perhaps Republicans can learn something from messaging failures in this election. But at the end of the day this is just one data point in a single Congressional district out of 435. So it would be silly for Republicans to panic suddenly flee from the Ryan plan.