Out of the approximately 330 million Americans hearing last weekend's news heralding Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate, GOP congressional candidate Chris Collins harbored a more than special interest.
Romney's choice of the outspoken budget hawk from Wisconsin meant return of the dreaded word still lingering from the 2011 special election that sent current opponent Kathy Hochul to Congress – Medicare.
For Collins – anybody but Ryan.
Democrat Hochul, you will recall, pulled off a major upset just 15 months ago by trouncing Republican Jane Corwin in official GOP turf. And Medicare dominated the campaign just as the "Ryan budget" was grabbing the national spotlight – complete with its plan to revamp the current plan into a voucher system.
Indeed, just before Election Day in May 2011, Corwin seemed to expect defeat when she told a reporter she wished she had handled the Medicare question differently.
Now Collins must face the re-elevation of Medicare into a major issue in the 2012 contest. Ryan and his ideas for taming the federal deficit now move front and center in the presidential debate. That makes it even more an issue in the new 27th Congressional District too.
No wonder Romney doesn't want to talk about the Ryan budget. And no wonder Collins ducked the issue too, refusing to answer repeated questions on the subject posed by News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski.
Just as Hochul has been forced by the Collins campaign and national Republicans to tip-toe through her loyalty to President Obama, it will now be fascinating to watch how Collins defines his relationship with Romney and Ryan on Medicare.
Ryan, on the other hand, has ascended into the top levels of American politics by embracing the issue – as difficult as it may be. And you can bet that Hochul will be unafraid to raise it in the days ahead after successfully riding it to Washington just last year.
It's possible that the national media applied too much emphasis to Medicare as a deciding issue in the Hochul-Corwin contest. Businessman Jack Davis, after all, dropped millions of his own dollars into the campaign as a minor party candidate and hurt the Corwin effort, especially early on. That factor cannot be ignored.
And in another special election in Nevada last year, a Republican triumphed by fending off the Medicare subject and focusing on jobs and the economy. Corwin, however, could not escape the Hochul attack.
Now Collins must face the same issue; this time on steroids. Hochul and the Democrats won't let it go. And Collins is still guided essentially by the same team that ran Corwin's campaign as well as his own unsuccessful effort for a second term as county executive just last November.
It's also more than probable that jobs and the economy will ultimately rank as the deciding factors guiding the votes of presidential and congressional voters alike. Those categories usually manage to beat out any other when voters actually go to mark their ballot.
But the point is that the addition of Ryan to the ticket ticket may somehow leap frog Medicare into an all-consuming issue. It has in the past, and it could happen again.
Meanwhile, political cosultant Michael Caputo, a more than casual observer who was involved in Iraq War veteran David Bellavia's unsuccessful primary campaign against Collins earlier this year, says the advantage may lie with the GOP this time around. There will be no more articulate spokesman for the concept of Medicare reform, he says, than Ryan.
"He's the one who can defend it in kitchen table language," Caputo said, "while the 2011 campaign was an anomaly because the Corwin campaign didn't handle it well."
For sure, Medicare would have ranked as a major issue in the 2012 congressional campaign with or without Paul Ryan. But also for sure, the new veep candidate has once again sharpened the debate, especially for Chris Collins and Kathy Hochul.