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Paul Ryan's impact on NY House races debated

Gage Skidmore

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate will impact New York’s competitive House races. But whether the effect will be good or bad depends on who you talk to.

New York has eight congressional races that are considered competitive this year. In fact, New York has more districts in play that any other state, and outcomes here could determine whether the House of Representatives is controlled by Democrats or Republicans.

The head of New York’s Republican Party, Ed Cox, says he is optimistic about Paul Ryan’s ability to help fiscally conservative incumbents and challengers running in several of the races.

“I think it’s going to play very well in New York,” said Cox, who says Ryan’s Wisconsin district is demographically similar to contested districts in western and central New York.

“It’s both rural and industrialized,” said Cox. “It’s also slightly Democratic, but he’s done very well there.”  

Political analyst and former Democratic strategist Bruce Gyory strongly disagrees. He says Ryan’s former budget plans that would have re-made Medicare present a  huge “hurdle.” Gyory says that is because many voters in the nation and New York, while ideologically conservative, can be operationally liberal, when it comes to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.  

“On this one, voters have not wanted to study the nuances,” said Gyory. “They almost have a sniff test over who’s for Medicare and who’s against.”

Gyory says the New York districts that are the most competitive have proportionately more older people. He says polls have shown that up until now, white voters over 50 as a group, were leaning away from President Obama and the Democrats.

“And now they’ve given Democrats a crowbar to win some of those votes back,” said Gyory.

Gyory says Ryan, in a sense, has already lost one race in New York. Two years ago, western New York Democrat Kathy Hochul made Ryan’s plans to change Medicare a centerpiece of her successful campaign in a special election.

Now-Congresswoman Hochul’s opponent in the 2012 race, former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, was quick to try to turn the Medicare issue around. He released a fundraising letter, accusing Hochul of trying to gut Medicare because she voted for President Obama’s health care plan. That plan will cut subsidies for supplementary Medicare programs and reduce rate of the overall growth of the health care program.

New York GOP Chairman Cox says Ryan’s views on Medicare are being distorted. He points to the most recent version of the Republican House budget proposal, that keeps Medicare intact for those 55 and older, and offers choices of health care vouchers and other options to younger people.

Cox says the Wisconsin congressman’s views have evolved.

“They may point to his first Medicare plan, but on the other hand he listened,” said Cox, who says the more recent proposals would be difficult to attack.

The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already jumped on the issue. It has launched robo-calls, linking some Republican New York members of Congress to votes for the Ryan budget plan in the past, which the calls say would have “ended” Medicare.

And advocacy groups who expect to play a role in the campaigns are also honing in on the Medicare issue. Charlie Albanetti is with Citizen Action, which celebrated the 77th anniversary of the Social Security law on Tuesday. Albanetti says his group, once it decides on endorsements in the next several weeks, will pull out all the stops to inform voters of GOP congressional candidate’s connections to the Ryan budget and Medicare proposals.

“We’ll be going into districts all across the state,” Albanetti said.

The Republican's challenge, says analyst Bruce Gyory, is to not let the Democrats define the GOP ticket’s position on Medicare. He says it would be ironic if “picking the policy superstar of the GOP conference” put Republican dominance of the house in jeopardy.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.