The DCCC owes Paul Ryan a thank-you note

THE DCCC OWES PAUL RYAN A THANK-YOU NOTE…. When Rep. Chris Lee (R) resigned in disgrace in February, few expected his seat to change party hands. His Buffalo-area district has been represented by Republicans for a long while, and national Democrats didn’t expect the special election to replace Lee to be competitive at all.

In March, the New York GOP rallied behind Jane Corwin, a well-liked state assemblywoman, and the race in the 26th congressional district appeared to be largely over.

And then a Siena College poll was published, showing Corwin’s lead at just five points over Democrat Kathy Hochul. What happened?

Part of the competitiveness is the result of Jack Davis, an odd millionaire, running as an independent and splitting the right. And the other part is Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget plan.

After leveling a barrage of attacks against the proposal put forth by Mr. Ryan, the Democratic candidate, Kathy Hochul, has tightened the race considerably, even as her Republican opponent remained supportive of the plan, perhaps out of concern that distancing herself from it would alienate conservatives.

The shifting dynamics of the race, which have emboldened top Democrats and their allies, underscore the intense reaction to Mr. Ryan’s proposal, the centerpiece of a budget that House Republicans voted to approve in April to address the nation’s long-term financial problems. […]

“The Republican vote to end Medicare has moved the needle in this race,” said Representative Steve Israel of Long Island, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The Republican should be running away with this. Instead, she is clinging to a minuscule lead.”

At this point, the best the Republican campaign can come up with is the charge that Democrats “are trying to scare seniors.” But that’s awfully weak — it’s not demagoguery if it’s true, and if accurate descriptions of the GOP plan end up scaring people, that’s certainly not Democrats’ fault.

Marsha Sherris, 61, a real estate broker in the district, seems to epitomize the challenge for Ms. Corwin. A registered Republican, Ms. Sherris said that she was troubled about the Republican Medicare proposal and that it might ultimately influence her vote in the special election.

“Maybe I would go Democrat,” Ms. Sherris said on Main Street in Williamsville. “We have to worry about the seniors. They are the ones who supported this country all this time.”

The special election is in about three weeks, and Republicans are scrambling to salvage a win. Given their efforts and the district’s traditional leanings, the GOP might very well hang on. Time will tell.

But the larger point is how nervous this should make the rest of the Republican Party — especially those vulnerable GOP House members who are worried about re-election in 2012. There are 60 House Republicans who represent districts President Obama won in 2008, and 59 of them voted for Ryan’s budget plan and all that it entails.

If Corwin is struggling in a GOP stronghold, how optimistic are they about following their leadership off the right–wing cliff?