DEPEW, N.Y. (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner on Monday urged voters in western New York to back the Republican candidate in a close three-way House special election that has emerged as a proxy battle over the future of Medicare, the government health plan for seniors.
Boehner spoke at a campaign fundraiser for Jane Corwin, a GOP assemblywoman long thought to be a shoo-in to succeed Republican Rep. Chris Lee in this heavily Republican district. Lee, a married father, resigned the seat in February after shirtless photos he sent to a woman he met on Craigslist were published online.
The special election is May 24. Polls show a tight race among Corwin, Democratic Erie County Executive Kathy Hochul and Jack Davis, a multimillionaire running as a Tea Party candidate.
Despite a 30,000 Republican registration edge in the district, Corwin has seen her lead evaporate in part because of her support of the spending plan crafted by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would cut billions of dollars from Medicare and recast it as a voucher program. The Republican-controlled House passed the Ryan budget last month, but the Medicare cuts proved so unpopular they have been largely shelved by House leaders as part of a budget deal this year.
Boehner made no reference to the Medicare controversy in his remarks to some 300 Corwin supporters at a luncheon here, but he did acknowledge the sudden closeness of the race. He urged a strong turnout for Corwin, whom he called the only "true conservative" in the race.
"Washington Democrats are hoping they can steal this election to move their agenda, which is more taxes and higher spending. But voters in western New York have a different agenda," Boehner said.
Corwin told reporters she wouldn't back away for her support for the Ryan plan, but said she was willing to consider other options that would preserve Medicare for future retirees.
"I am open to suggestions," Corwin said. "If there is a better plan out there I'd be happy to look at it. Bottom line, I haven't heard anything from my opponents other than raising taxes."
For her part, Hochul held a competing event nearby with representatives of the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, an advocacy group that has endorsed her candidacy. Hochul predicted flatly the race would turn on the Medicare issue.
"It is going to come down to a referendum not just on me, but also on that Ryan budget because Republicans in Washington have gone too far this time and they will be stopped," Hochul said.
She said she would support some efforts to bring Medicare costs down, including reducing the price of prescription drugs associated with the program.
"I've got a problem with this. The cost of health care is huge," Hochul said.