Congressman Steve Israel talks about the rising gas prices during...

Congressman Steve Israel talks about the rising gas prices during a press conference at a gas station on Deer Park Avenue in Dix Hills. (April 25, 2011) Credit: James Carbone

Suddenly, we have Rep. Steve Israel in the national spotlight, as one of the winners in a now-famous roll of the political dice.

The Huntington Democrat heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which saw its candidate, Kathy Hochul, snare the 26th District House seat in Western New York that was widely expected to remain in Republican hands.

"I had to make the decision on whether to commit the DCCC to go into this race. When it was presented to me, I thought it exceedingly unlikely a Democrat could win," said Israel, who turns 53 Monday. "It was a difficult decision, but my view was, if Democrats are not going to support a Democrat who was defending Medicare in a tough district, why are we Democrats? That's our obligation. So we got involved."

Last November, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the sixth-term Long Islander as DCCC chairman, replacing Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. This followed her caucus' worst election drubbing in more than 70 years. In New York alone, Republicans gained six seats.

This week, Israel, in a swarm of network sound bites and published quotes, gets to prominently tout Hochul's win as a clear blow to Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed Medicare overhaul -- and even talk up the chance of his party recapturing the House next year.

In many forums, Israel blasts this message: "I hope that the Republicans will take a lesson on this from NY-26 and finally withdraw their plan to end Medicare benefits in order to fund tax cuts for big oil companies."

Republicans, of course, call this distortion and demagoguery. And, of course, there were other facets to Tuesday's special election -- which followed the abrupt resignation in February of married GOP Rep. Chris Lee, who infamously sent a shirtless photo in response to a personal ad from a woman on Craigslist.

Democrat Hochul got about 47 percent of the vote to succeed Lee. Some GOP partisans blame the weak candidacy of her opponent, Assemb. Jane Corwin, who won 43 percent. Others point to the spoiler effect of putative tea party candidate Jack Davis, who drew about 9 percent. Still others blame a lack of fresh strategy by state Republicans.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) also got a dose of national attention this week, though smaller. After local chatter about running King for president, the 10th-term congressman was quoted as saying former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was close to chasing the White House again.

Only last year, Giuliani talked up King, now 67, for statewide office, which he didn't pursue.

Regarding Medicare, CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes asked King what it said to him that its future became "the No. 1 issue in this race in New York."

"If that's true," King replied, "and it could well be, we're going to have to make our case better on Medicare. We have to show as Republicans we're saving Medicare."

To the east, fifth-term Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton), who turns 61 next week, prepares for a possible rematch against the Republican he barely beat last year, businessman Randy Altschuler, who announced his candidacy for 2012 on Wednesday. Jon Schneider, Bishop's aide, promptly demanded of Altschuler: "Where does he stand on the Paul Ryan budget?" Altschuler spokesman Chris Russell told Newsday there will be plenty of time to debate specific issues during the campaign.

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