Poll shows Democrat surging to lead in New York's special congressional race 

Political observers have been closely following next Tuesday's special congressional election in western New York, because if Democrats win in the Republican-leaning district, it will be used to push the narrative that there is a public backlash against Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan. The race is quirky, because it's a three-way contest, with a Tea Party candidate who previously ran as a Democrat. But in bad news for Republicans, the latest Sienna poll shows the Tea Party candidate sinking and the Democrat gaining most of his votes.

Democrat Kathy Hochul now leads Republican Jane Corwin by a 42 percent to 38 percent margin, while the Tea Party candidate Jack Davis's support dropped to 12 percent. Corwin had a 5-point lead in the last poll, in which Davis had 21 percent support.

Slate's Dave Weigel, who has been tracking the race closely, offers the following explanation for the shift:

Davis has taken a battering on the air, from both camps, but most of his supporters have moved over to Hochul. She now has an 8-point lead with independents, and she holds more Democrats (76 percent) than Corwin holds Republicans (66 percent). Hochul has a healthy 55 percent favorable rating. Corwin wasted days explaining why her chief of staff had confronted Davis outside an event, then released a clipped video of Davis shoving him; the damage comes in the form of a 43 percent favorable rating. That's how Hochul is breaking through in a sample size that's 41 percent Republican and 35 percent Democratic -- but the last Siena poll sampled only 31 percent Democrats.* The new, 35 percent number is not out of whack with the district. (Only 28 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Davis.)

One reason for Hochul's surge: In the wake of the killing of OBL, Barack Obama's approval in the district has bumped up to 48 percent. That's about as much support as he won in 2008. Another, bigger reason: Medicare. A full 21 percent of voters say Medicare's their top issue, and Hochul leads by 29 points with those voters. Another source of strength for Democrats: Among voters who don't have jobs, Hochul leads by 7 points.

Should Hochul win next week, it will be that Medicare point that we'll be hearing about.

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Philip Klein

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