Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

There’s a lot of news out there today and none of it is good. The press is still dumping on Biden for Afghanistan and his Covid response too. And so-called “centrist Democrats” are still trying to sabotage Biden’s infrastructure plans. And of course, the Covid-19 Delta variant is still spreading like wildfire. So this will be a mish-mash of reads. Before I get started with that, here’s one bit of good news from New York.

The New York Times: Kathy Hochul Is Sworn In as New York’s First Female Governor.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Kathy C. Hochul, a former congresswoman from Buffalo, became the 57th governor of New York early Tuesday, making history as the first woman to ascend to the state’s highest office.

She was sworn in at the State Capitol by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, in a private ceremony, capping a whirlwind chain of events that followed a series of sexual harassment allegations made against the outgoing governor, Andrew M. Cuomo.

Ms. Hochul, 62, assumes office three weeks after a state attorney general investigation concluded that Mr. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women. A week later, Mr. Cuomo announced his resignation, bringing his 10-year reign to an abrupt end after rising to national fame during the pandemic last year.

Governor Hochul, a Democrat, has vowed to lead the state through a still surging pandemic and economic uncertainty, while ushering in a new era of civility and consensus in state government.

“I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders and I will tell New Yorkers I’m up for the task,” Ms. Hochul told WGRZ-TV, a Buffalo-based news station, shortly after she was sworn in. “I thought about all the women that came before me, including my mother who was not there, but a lot of women through history, and I felt they passed the torch to me.”

Andrew Cuomo is gone for now. That’s one good thing that happened.

Afghanistan News and Opinion

The Washington Post: CIA Director William Burns held secret meeting in Kabul with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar.

CIA Director William J. Burns held a secret meeting Monday in Kabul with the Taliban’s de facto leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, in the highest-level face-to-face encounter between the Taliban and the Biden administration since the militants seized the Afghan capital, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy.

The CIA declined to comment on the Taliban meeting, but the discussions are likely to have involved an impending Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military to conclude its airlift of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies.

President Biden dispatched his top spy, a veteran of the Foreign Service and the most decorated diplomat in his Cabinet, amid a frantic effort to evacuate people from Kabul international airport in what Biden has called “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history.”

The CIA declined to comment on the Taliban meeting, but the discussions are likely to have involved an impending Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military to conclude its airlift of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies.

For Baradar, playing the role of counterpart to a CIA director comes with a tinge of irony 11 years after the spy agency arrested him in a joint CIA-Pakistani operation that put him in prison for eight years.

Read more about Baradar’s history at the WaPo link.

Reuters: State Dept says U.S. will continue to help at-risk Afghans leave past Aug 31.

The United States’ commitment to at-risk Afghans extends beyond President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from the country, a senior State Department official said, adding that the promise of safe passage did not have “an expiration date.”

“Our commitment to at-risk Afghans doesn’t end on August 31,” the official told reporters in a briefing, without elaborating how Washington could continue its efforts to help people leave the country if it withdraws completely from the country by the end of the month….

“We’ve heard from the Taliban … that they want a functioning airport well after the U.S. military has left … The Taliban has also agreed to permit safe passage to the airport and this commitment doesn’t have an expiration date on it,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

She added that even when U.S. military’s presence is gone the United States had every expectation that at-risk Afghans would have an opportunity to leave the country.

But the reports from the ground already show potential evacuees face a perilous journey to the Kabul airport and chaos at the airport gates before they can soldier on through the crowds onto an aircraft.

Raw Story: Adam Schiff reveals startling facts after classified Afghanistan briefing.

According to CNN’s Ryan Nobles, Schiff said that he doesn’t believe everyone will be out by the Aug. 31 deadline. The Taliban has said that the United States has until that deadline, and they’ll make no concessions for dates beyond that. Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Monday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said that it would ultimately end with a showdown between the U.S. and Taliban.

“Maybe we’re going to have to call the Taliban’s bluff,” said Murphy.

“Given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIVs, the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders,” Schiff began. “It’s hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month.”

He said that he’s also concerned about the safety and security for the airport in Kabul, saying that the “threat to the airport is very real and very substantial.” He even said that it could be a target for ISIS….

Schiff went on to say that the intelligence community was aware that the Taliban had the ability to take over the country. “The intelligence agencies’ assessments of the Afghan government’s ability to maintain itself became increasingly pessimistic over the course of the last six months. And there were any number of warnings that the Taliban might take over, and some that included a potential of a very rapid, the Afghan government enforces.” (sic)

Two good opinion pieces:

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: The Afghanistan War Was Lost Before Biden Ended It.

Andrew Latham at The Hill: The coming collapse of the Taliban.

Covid-19 News and Opinion

Eleanor Clift at The Daily Beast:  It’s the Virus, Not Afghanistan, That’s Dragging Biden Down.

For all of the media attention here on President Biden’s handling of Afghanistan, the latest poll numbers show that it’s his handling of COVID-19 that’s been most damaging to his standing with the American public— and that could get worse, fast, if the Delta variant disrupts the school year.

The American people are sick of the pandemic and they’re taking it out on Biden while a handful of red-state governors reap short-term political gains by blocking mask mandates and other public health measures, and allow the virus to spread.

Their intransigence in the face of a widening health crisis is costing Biden politically. On Monday, with the news that the Pfizer vaccine had gotten full FDA approval, he called on private sector companies to do what he has done with the military and federal health workers and make the vaccine mandatory or require frequent testing to employees who refuse it. “It’s your lucky day,” the president told the people who say they were waiting on the FDA.

There may be a relatively small number of people who wanted full clearance instead of emergency authorization before getting the jab, but the FDA’s move may motivate companies to take a more aggressive approach to protecting their workforces and facilities now that they may be on a legally sounder footing for doing so.

Biden had promised that the country could return to something resembling normal once 70 percent of the population was vaccinated, which he believed could be achieved by July 4, aptly named Independence Day. The numbers fell short but the new president was on a roll, and he and the first lady celebrated with a big party on the South Lawn, prematurely as it turned out.

Even before the authorization, vaccination rates have continued to tick up but not fast enough to beat the Delta variant into submission, and not fast enough to reclaim Biden’s standing.

Sarah Zhang at The Atlantic: This School Year Is Going to Be a Mess—Again.

Since early summer, three pandemic clocks have been ticking. The first pertains to the coronavirus’s Delta variant, which has sent daily case numbers soaring more than tenfold since June. The second clock is more predictable: The school year starts, as it always does, in late August or early September. The third clock counts down to the authorization of vaccines for children under 12, which was optimistically supposed to come this fall. After the FDA pushed for a larger trial to collect more safety data in kids, it will likely take longer.

These three timelines have now managed to converge in the worst way possible: Just as Delta is climbing to a new peak, millions of children who still cannot be vaccinated are going to spend hours a day indoors at school. And many of them will do so without masks, thanks in part to mask-mandate bans in some of the same states that are currently experiencing the worst outbreaks. “Are you allowed to use swear words?” is how Sean O’Leary, a pediatrician at the University of Colorado, replied when I asked him how he felt going into the school year.

This fall was supposed to herald the return of in-person classes everywhere. After the virus brought the 2020 spring semester to an abrupt halt, schools fumbled through another year with a mix of in-person and virtual learning. Now Delta threatens to wreak havoc on a third school year.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Infrastructure Bill News

The Guardian: Tensions flare in Capitol as moderate Democrats hold up Biden budget plan.

Confronting moderates, House Democratic leaders tried to muscle Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar budget blueprint over a key hurdle, working overnight to ease an intraparty showdown that risks upending their domestic infrastructure agenda.

Tensions flared and spilled into early Tuesday as a band of moderates threatened to withhold their votes for the $3.5tn plan. They were demanding the House first approve a $1tn package of road, power grid, broadband and other infrastructure projects that has passed the Senate.

Despite hours of negotiations at the Capitol, the House chamber came to a standstill and plans were thrown into flux as leaders and lawmakers huddled privately to broker an agreement. Shortly after midnight, leaders announced no further votes would be taken until Tuesday’s session.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, implored Democrats not to miss this chance to deliver on the promises Biden and the party have made to Americans.

“Right now, we have an opportunity to pass something so substantial for our country, so transformative we haven’t seen anything like it,” Pelosi said, according to a person who requested anonymity to disclose the private comments.

Pelosi told the party it was “unfortunate” they were discussing the process when they should be debating the policy.

“We cannot squander this majority and this Democratic White House by not passing what we need to do,” she said.

An update from Politico: ‘Not that far apart’: Democrats near deal to break budget impasse.

Democratic leaders are finalizing a deal that would clear the way for passage of the $3.5 trillion budget framework and set a House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill for Sept. 27, an offer they hope ends a weekslong standoff with moderates.

After several hours of furious negotiating Monday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team are finishing the compromise, which they hope to put on the floor as soon as Tuesday afternoon. Democratic members believed a deal was imminent, based on Pelosi’s tone, but the caucus will meet Tuesday morning to discuss the contours of the agreement.

“I’m sorry that we couldn’t land the plane last night, and that you all had to wait. But that’s just part of the legislative progress,” Pelosi said Tuesday morning. “I think we’re close to landing the plane.”

Many rank-and-file members of the Democratic caucus are furious at Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and his group of centrists, who have halted progress on the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s social spending plans over their insistence the bipartisan bill receive a vote first. It’s unclear if the broader bloc of moderates has signed off on the emerging deal hashed out with Democratic leaders, as some of them are still trying to secure more assurances from leadership about the scope and details of the party-line budget framework.

That’s all I have for today. What stories are you following? Any good news?

Wednesday Reads…Ligers, Tornadoes and Pawlenty, oh my!

Deb: What are you drawing? Napoleon Dynamite: A liger. Deb: What's a liger? Napoleon Dynamite: It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like a lion and a tiger mixed... bred for its skills in magic.

The lights just went out and we heard a huge bang, it seems a transformer  blew up.  So I am writing this post in my BlogJet editor, and hopefully the power will be back on in time to get it posted.

Lets start this Wednesday Morning Reads off with a funny story.  I always thought the Liger, a “mystical” creature with “magical powers” that Napoleon Dynamite was so fond of was just something made up.  When I saw this first link I thought it was a joke, yes I am an idiot. There is such a thing as a liger, only not as comical as the drawing Napoleon drew in his notebook.

Check it out…BBC News – Liger cubs nursed by dog in China’s Xixiakou Zoo

Dog nurses two liger cubs in Weihai, China (19 May 2011)

Two liger cubs – a cross between a male lion and a female tiger – are being nursed by a dog at a zoo in Weihai, eastern China.

Four cubs were born at the Xixiakou Wildlife Zoo earlier this month but only two survived.

The mother stopped feeding the cubs after a few days so the dog, which had recently had its own puppies, was enlisted to help.

Ligers are extremely rare and are thought to only be born in captivity.

Damn, you ever feel like a dumbass Beavis? Sitting here thinking, what do you get when you cross a female horse and a male donkey…duh…a mule?

Okay, on to the serious stuff.

In what I hope is a sign of things to come, the Democrats Capture House Seat in Special Election – NYTimes.com

Democrats scored an upset in one of New York’s most conservative Congressional districts on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the national Republican Party in a race that largely turned on the party’s plan to overhaul Medicare.

The results set off elation among Democrats and soul-searching among Republicans, who questioned whether the party should rethink its commitment to the Medicare plan, which appears to have become a liability as 2012 elections loom.

New York Times article goes on to say that Kathy Hochul had about as much of a chance at winning the election in this very Red district as a snowball’s chance in hell.

Okay, they did not go that far. But…

Two months ago, the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, was considered an all-but-certain loser in the race against the Republican, Jane Corwin. But Ms. Hochul seized on the Republican’s embrace of the proposal from Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, to overhaul Medicare, and she never let up.

On Tuesday, she captured 47 percent of the vote to Ms. Corwin’s 43 percent, according to unofficial results. A Tea Party candidate, Jack Davis, had 9 percent.

Wonk the vote had two live blog post going, here and here…if you missed the fun.

My OKC friend JD spent most of the evening huddled in her basement last night. Luckily she and her family are okay…but there are many who were not as fortunate.  Tornadoes kill 4 in Oklahoma, 2 in Kansas | Reuters

The four confirmed deaths in Oklahoma were in Canadian County, west of Oklahoma City, said Michaelann Ooten, deputy director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

Statewide, there were 60 injuries and 58,000 were without power, Ooten said.

In Kansas, two people died near the town of St. John, state emergency management spokeswoman Sharon Watson said.

Steve Moody, the fire chief for St. John, told Reuters: “A family driving down Highway 281 pulled into a driveway and that was exactly where the tornado came through. A large diameter tree fell on the car, killing two.”

BiBi Netanyahu addressed congress on Tuesday, and for a couple of links on that…Don’t be fooled by the applause, Binyamin Netanyahu | Jane Eisner | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

Jews in the United States do not like finding themselves in the position of choosing between their president and the prime minister of Israel. No matter who is in the White House, no matter who is in charge of the government in Jerusalem, we like to see consensus, a smooth connection, the enunciation not just of shared values, but a shared approach to geopolitical challenges.

In the two years since Netanyahu cobbled together a rightwing coalition in Israel, and came up against an American president scrambling to improve his nation’s image in the Muslim world, that smooth connection got awfully bumpy at times. I fear the impasse is only growing.

It need not be this way. Obama’s speech last Thursday at the state department outlining his administration’s response to the so-called Arab Spring contained a ringing defence of Israel’s continued security and a stinging rebuke to Hamas, the terrorist organisation that rules Gaza and recently signalled an alliance with the Palestinian Authority. Obama plainly defended Israel’s right to exist and its place in the community of nations, pledging to resist attempts to “delegitimise” the homeland of the Jews. And he promised to work against a unilateral declaration of statehood that Palestinian leaders intend to put before the United Nations in September.

But the president also stated out loud what every president (and many Israeli officials) of the last two decades have acknowledged: the borders of Israel before the 1967 war, before the 43-year occupation, are the starting point for negotiations with Palestinians. The starting point, not the conclusion, as Obama also called for “land swaps” that, again, have long been an accepted mechanism for dividing the contested land.

And this from Informed Comment, a guest post by Jeremy Pressman:

Pressman: American Presidents and the Two-State Solution | Informed Comment

“Clinton, Bush, & Obama on a two-state solution”

This compilation of major Clinton, Bush (43), and Obama statements on a two-state solution including security, settlements, the West Bank, refugees, and Jerusalem suggests the similarities and differences in presidential rhetoric since President Bill Clinton publicly called for two states on January 7, 2001.

Pressman uses 6 sources and brings up 7 points on the similarities of all three president’s stances on Israel and Palestine. Click the link to read them all.

Thanks to Dak for this link:  Tim Pawlenty’s Extreme Antichoice Record | The Nation Of course Pawlenty is one of many PLUBs that are pushing the fetus fanatic agenda.

Pawlenty’s views on a woman’s right to choose are among the more extreme in the emerging GOP field. National Review dubbed Pawlenty as possibly “the strongest pro-life candidate in 2012.” Under Pawlenty, who is an evangelical Christian, Minnesota was the first state to give women bogus information on “fetal pain” in an effort to dissuade them from having an abortion. He also signed laws providing women with information about “alternatives” to abortion, which became a model for other states, and has engaged in years of direct outreach to extreme antichoice groups.

“The more women voters learn about Governor Pawlenty’s anti–women’s health record, the more impossible it will be for him to pick up the support of independent voters in the general election,” said Dawn Laguens of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

I am really not sure this laid back approach to all these anti-women bills being proposed (and passed btw) is going to be a successful strategy for the Democrats.  Personally, I think riots in the streets are the way to go, because these bills are passing with far to little noise in the main stream press. The GOP is getting away with their plan to make women nothing more than incubators.  Of course, this war on a women’s right to affordable healthcare and the hypocritical practice of neglecting the fetus once it emerges from the womb is only part of the larger plan to do away with Medicare and insist on continued tax cuts for the rich and other ridiculous measures we here on Sky Dancing are all too familiar with.

Well that is it for me, the power just came back on and I want to make sure this post gets scheduled.  I realize it is a bit on the short side, if you missed the evening reads post I did yesterday, please check it out…its a rather long post with lots of links.

Oh,be sure to post updates any news items of interest if you find them. I am pretty sure the casualty numbers will be going up for Tuesday’s  storms, and the one that hit Joplin a couple days ago.

**Quick Update on the Joplin, OKC and Kansas Tornadoes**

Violent Thunderstorms Kill 7 in Oklahoma, Kansas – ABC News

Oklahoma tornadoes: At least 5 dead, 60 injured | NewsOK.com

Missouri tornado: Joplin braces as new storms slam Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas – latimes.com

Joplin storm contained a rare multivortex tornado – KansasCity.com

Let’s hear it for the “Emily’s List” candidate: Kathy Hochul wins NY-26

Kirsten Gillibrand campaigning for Kathy Hochul at a rally this past Saturday.

With over 60% reporting and Hochul holding onto her lead, lots of people calling it for Hochul:

@fivethirtyeight: Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) has called it for Hochul. Good as done. #ny26

Another great tweet:

@thepeoplesview: First Republican electoral casualty of Paul Ryan’s Kill-Medicare plan: Kathy Hochul wins in NY-26! Hee!

As I noted in my post earlier tonight, in a move signaling how weak the GOP is, their candidate Jane Corwin obtained a court order blocking a certification of the winner tonight… it looks like we’ll have to wait until Thursday or so, but let the celebrating begin… here’s hoping this is a huge blow to DC and the Austerity crowd.

It was after all Kirsten Gillibrand, and not DC Dems, who saw the opening in NY-26 and campaigned hard for Kathy Hochul…via the Hill:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has emerged as one of the most prominent supporters of New York House candidate Kathy Hochul.

Washington Democrats have been keeping their distance from Hochul, the party’s nominee in the May 24 special election for former Rep. Chris Lee’s (R-N.Y.) seat. Meanwhile, Republicans leaders including Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) and Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) have lent their backing to the GOP nominee, Jane Corwin.

Gillibrand, a former upstate congresswoman, sent a fundraising pitch on Hochul’s behalf and teamed with the pro-choice group EMILY’s List to urge activists to lend their support.

“Kathy is an extraordinary candidate,” Gillibrand said Tuesday during a Web forum hosted by EMILY’s List. “I know she can win this race.”

This just reminds me of all the attacks on Coakley and Emily’s List during the Scott Brown race… as I said then, “In Defense of the Emily’s List Candidate”:

Emily’s List produced a winning primary candidate (they backed the candidate who won the popular vote in the 2008 primaries too for that matter). It’s the Obama Era of the Democratic party that has created bad electoral conditions for Democratic nominees and made it difficult for liberals to stand on principle. (Even the socialist in the U.S. Senate voted for Obama’s health insurance scam. Way to discredit the right-wing canard that Obama’s terrible policies are synonymous with socialism.)

The one surefire way to avoid becoming the target of local backlash against Obama is to run against Obama’s policies–and in today’s environment where the activist left is split up along deep fault lines (“submit to party unity or else you’re a certain class of politician, voter, or woman”), Democratic nominees do not have the benefit of a ready-made independent fundraising network to take on the Obama machine during a general election yet. Of course they could try to build one, but either way it is an uphill battle and there is no easy path to victory whatever they choose.

This race was somewhat different in that Hochul could run against the GOP’s toxic Ryancare rather than against Obamacare, but when you hear all the spin tonight and the Dem machine taking credit for Hochul’s win, remember that it was Kirsten Gillibrand and Emily’s List who shored up Kathy Hochul, not Washington Dems, who were too afraid to get behind Hochul.

The “Emily’s List” candidate won in the very red district of NY-26!

Congrats to Kathy, and Kirsten for president!

Hochul’s win tonight also makes Eric Cantor’s and Jonah Goldberg’s push for Paul Ryan to run for president (not to mention Charles Krathammer’s “Draft Paul Ryan” noises from a month ago) all the more ridiculous and embarrassing for the GOP.

Go, Kathy Hochul, Go! (NY-26 Special Election Open Thread)

Democratic candidate for the 26th District Congressional seat, Kathy Hochul speaks while holding a pair of boxing gloves during a news conference in Clarence, N.Y., Monday, May 9, 2011. David Duprey / AP Photo

UPDATE, via Buffalo News, with 57% of precincts reporting, Kathy Hochul leads Jane Corwin by 4 points:

Hochul , Kathy 47%
Corwin , Jane 43%
Davis , Jack 8%
Murphy , Ian 1%


Tonight’s the big day for NY-26. Election returns are supposed to start showing up here after the polls close tonight. Democrat Kathy Hochul has got the technical edge in some very close polling, which is amazing for this very red district, and the following reporting from Wapo’s Behind the Numbers earlier today seems to point to good news on how the internals are shaking out for her as well:

N.Y.-26 Special Election – Tuesday’s Special Election in New York’s 26th Congressional District finds a very tight race in available polling. Democrat Kathy Hochul has a numerical lead of 42 percent to 38 percent for Republican Jane Corwin and 12 percent for tea party candidate Jack Davis in data from Siena College Research Institute. Those results are well within the poll’s margin of error completed Friday.

Despite the very close numbers, some of the internals are revealing. Hochul secures more of her base voters, winning 76 percent among Democrats, while Corwin only secures 66 percent of her base Republican voters. Independents tilt to Hochul by 44 to 36 percent. Again, those results among independents are within the error margins.

Many pundits have pointed to this race as an early test of Republican attempts to tackle Medicare as a part of budget reform. In the Siena poll, Medicare was not singled out as the most important issue in the vote. Fully 21 percent call it most important, about the same level as the federal budget (19 percent) and jobs (20 percent). Medicare does rise to the top for Democrats, but less so for Republicans and independents.

This afternoon, the NYT Caucus reported heavy turnout and had this to say, in terms of what that means for Hochul and Corwin:

Turnout appeared fairly strong for the special election in western New York State’s 26th Congressional district on Tuesday, officials said. But it was not immediately clear which of the candidates, if any, would benefit from the high degree of voters’ interest in the race.


But what that high interest will translate into, in terms of votes, is hard to discern. If turnout is strong across the board, Ms. Corwin would likely stand to benefit, since Republicans have a large registration advantage in the district. Ms. Hochul, for her part, would be in a particularly strong position if voters in Erie County, where she is county clerk, turn out in high numbers.

In a move indicating just how vulnerable the GOP is, Jane Corwin has obtained a court order barring certification of a winner tonight… via Buffalo News:

Jane L. Corwin this afternoon obtained a court order from State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia barring a certification of a winner in the special 26th Congressional District race pending a show-cause hearing before him later this week.

The Buffalo News obtained a copy of the show-cause order Buscaglia signed this morning based on a petition the Republican candidate filed Monday.

Under the judge’s 11-page order, attorneys for Corwin have until Wednesday to serve copies of the court order on the election boards of Erie, Niagara, Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming, Livingston and Monroe counties, their sheriff’s offices, the state Board of Elections and her three opponents.

The Atlantic Wire has a good overview of the race and what various pundits are saying — Get Ready to Spin the Results of New York-26:

Voters in New York’s 26th congressional district are voting Tuesday to pick a replacement for Chris Lee, who resigned after the whole Internet saw him with his top off. The special election is now seen as a referendum on Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to phase out Medicare because even though the district is conservative, Democrat Kathy Hochul is ahead in the polls. As the national significance debated, the parties are mounting big get-out-the-vote operations–Republican Jane Corwin’s campaign had 500 volunteers knocking on doors over the weekend–150 of them bussed up from Washington, the Niagara Gazette‘s Eric DuVall reports. Hochul says the Democratic Party is running a “full field program” with hundreds of volunteers contacting thousands of voters.

Politico’s Alex Isenstadt writes that both parties are playing the “expectations game”–Republicans saying this race means nothing because third party candidate Jack Davis is siphoning votes from Corwin (pictured above, voting), and Democrats insisting they shouldn’t even be competitive in such a red district. (Conservatives started spinning the race even before polls put Hochul ahead, Dave Weigel notes.) And this strategy can be seen in browsing political blogs: liberal sites are giving a lot of coverage to the race Tuesday, while few conservative sites are bothering with it (the opposite was true in Wisconsin’s special election earlier this year, once missing votes were found handing the race to the conservative candidate.) The New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait says the race might be an outlier, but it’s still significant. It has “centered almost entirely around the exact theme that Democrats plan to employ in the next election cycle,” Chait writes. “All this suggests the party has gotten deep traction on the issue, and that the public can react against the policies of the House GOP. The political landscape that produced the Republican sweep of 2010 is gone. Just what replaces it remains to be seen.”

NBC’s First Read says that special elections aren’t a good guide to how the parties will fare in fall elections–but still, the power of Medicare shouldn’t be understated. A “GOP loss in NY-26–a district John McCain won in 2008, 52%-46%–would be a wake-up call for Republicans on Medicare, forcing their House members and even presidential candidates to re-evaluate how they approach the issue.”

Bill Clinton and Chris Chrisitie hit the phones for their respective party candidates… via Talking Points Memo:

“Now, I’m sure you’ve received many phone calls about this election already, nut please just give me a few seconds of your time as the election draws near,” Christie says in the call, according to The Buffalo News. “I’m calling to ask you for your support for Jane Corwin for Congress as you go to the polls Tuesday, May 24th. I ran for governor of New Jersey because like you, I wanted to see REAL change. Jane Corwin is a fighter who knows how to get things done. We’re in critical times for our country, and Washington needs stand-up leaders who will fight to control spending and change business as usual.”

Rallying Democrats, former President and current New York State resident Bill Clinton has recorded a call as well. Clinton’s script focuses tightly on the Medicare angle that Democrats have been pushing in the district, an approach they credit with their current lead in the polls.

“You can count on Kathy to say no to partisan politics that would end Medicare as we know it to pay for more tax cuts for multi-millionaires,” he says. “That’s just one reason I hope you’ll join me in supporting Kathy Hochul for Congress in the Special Election tomorrow, May 24th.”

ABC News on why NY-26 matters:

First, “If Hochul wins, even in a three-way race, it will be great news for Democrats, who will use the victory not only to talk about Medicare, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget and their own momentum, but also to recruit candidates around the country and raise funds,” the Rothenberg Political Report stated in a recent analysis. “And Democrats will have a right to brag, given the district’s fundamentals and the cash that Corwin and Republican groups have poured into the race.”

Second, the N.Y.-26 election would help both sides determine whether national dollars by party organizations and interest groups really make a difference.

Third, the race is important nationally because it has exposed the divisiveness and relative lack of coordination within the Tea Party movement. The biggest Tea Party group in the area, TEA New York, has endorsed Corwin, but not all Tea Party activisits are on board, which sends a warning sign to Washington that they will not back candidates based on party affiliation alone.

All eyes are obviously going to be on the exit polling and what it says about Ryancare.

Also from the link:

Hochul, the Erie County clerk, is widely expected to pull a victory in what would be a stunning defeat for Corwin, a state assemblywoman. The last Democrat to be elected from the district left office eight years ago, and only three Democrats have won in this area in the past century. New York’s 26th was only one of four districts in the state that voted for John McCain over Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

Hochul, however, has been cautious about declaring victory too quickly.

“We don’t have the enrollment advantage, but I’m going to keep fighting till the very last minute,” she said at a restaurant in Amherst.

NY Magazine has a primer on how to interpret the tonight’s returns… if Hochul wins, here’s pretty much what to expect from the Dems and points to consider about the validity of their claims:

Democrats point to this surprising result as the first definitive proof of the powerful opposition to Ryan’s Medicare-reform plan. The plan is clearly as toxic as a stroll through Fukushima, as they’ve been saying all along, and it will likely lead to an Obama victory in November of 2012.

It’s true that voters who care most about Medicare are strongly in Hochul’s camp, according to polling. But the causality here isn’t quite so clear-cut, as Nate Silver explains:

What’s tricky about this is that it isn’t straightforward to determine whether voters are prepared to vote for Ms. Hochul because of the Medicare issue — or rather, whether they were going to vote for her for some other reason, but emphasize Medicare to pollsters because she has also.

There are also other factors to consider — the candidates themselves, their reputations and personalities, for example. So though Medicare will play a role in the outcome, it will be difficult to tell how large that role will be.

And even assuming that opposition to Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan is a decisive factor, how much can that foretell about November 2012? The Medicare plan may be a central issue at the moment, but will it remain prominent in the political discussion fifteen months from now? What if an agreement on reforming Medicare has been reached by then? What if the presidential election, or unforeseeable events, cause other issues to overshadow the debate over Medicare entirely? It’s a long time until 2012.

And points to consider about the GOP spin if Hochul wins:

Republicans will insist that they would have won if not for the presence of Jack Davis, the eccentric businessman pulling in around 12 or 13 percent of the vote on the Tea Party line, and therefore the results are meaningless, and everyone should forget that this ever happened. The truth though, is that if Hochul wins, it’s a victory regardless of Davis. Davis may be running on the “Tea Party” line this year, but he ran as a Democrat for the same seat in 2004, 2006, and 2008, and his “ideology is too inconsistent to be readily categorized,” as the Washington Post put it. In a recent Siena poll, he draws about the same amount of support from Republicans as he does from Democrats. In other words, if Hochul wins, it won’t be because Davis split the conservative vote.

On the other hand, if Corwin pulls it out, here’s how NY mag breaks down what to expect from the spinmeisters and how to gauge what they are saying:

The Democratic Spin:

Democrats will insist that, because this is usually such a Republican-friendly district, they overperformed despite losing. And that may be true, depending on the margin of victory, because this district has been represented by a Republican for 40 of the last 50 years, including the last eight, and John McCain carried it by 6 percent over Barack Obama in 2008. Using that result as a benchmark, it’s fair to say that if Hochul loses by a few points to Corwin, the Democrats still beat expectations, and can plausibly claim a sort of moral victory, if not a tangible one. But if Hochul loses by six or more points, there’s no way Democrats can spin this in their favor.

The Republican Counter-Spin:

Republicans will claim that a win by any margin, regardless of the “Beltway expectations game,” proves that the Democrats’ “Mediscaring” strategy has failed miserably and that Ryan’s Medicare plan isn’t as toxic as the Democrats and the liberal media would like everyone to believe. In fact, as this was essentially the first referendum on the GOP’s Medicare plan, Democrats in Congress should now heed this mandate and enact the plan into law.

The polls will close at 9 p.m. Eastern. Again, the numbers are supposed to start streaming here once voting has ended.

I’ll leave you with this teaser from Huffpo’s Mark Blumenthal and his take on how to watch the numbers as they roll in:

Click to view larger. image via Huffpo/NationalAtlas.gov

Judging vote composition is tricky when results are incomplete, but the percentage contributed by Erie and Niagara Counties is worth watching. If Democrats are having an exceptionally good night, the share of the vote from Erie and Niagara might be a point or two higher than the last few elections. If the vote share from those counties winds up being a point or two lower, then Republicans may post even stronger numbers than in 2010.

This is an open thread.