(CNN) -- Democrat Kathy Hochul swept to victory Tuesday night in a closely watched congressional election in New York state that turned into a proxy battle on a House Republican proposal on Medicare.
The race in New York's 26th Congressional District was to fill the seat of former Republican Rep. Chris Lee, who resigned over pictures and e-mails of him trying to find a date on Craigslist.
The seat had been considered safe for Republicans, who had held the district for more than four decades.
Democrats claimed the victory "had far-reaching consequences around the country" over Medicare, while a top Republican warned trying to "predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky."
With nearly 90% of precincts reporting, Hochul has 48% of the vote, Republican Jane Corwin 42 %, self-proclaimed Tea Party candidate Jack Davis 9 %, and Green Party candidate Ian Murphy 1 %.
The crowd chanted "Medicare, Medicare" during Hochul's victory speech in Buffalo, after the issue became the center of the once-little talked about race.
Hochul and Corwin attacked each other over it, with both campaigns, parties and outside groups flooding the airwaves with television commercials. Many of the ads spotlighted the political battle over House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's plan to drastically cut federal spending by reforming Medicare.
Hochul told supporters in her speech voters "looked beyond party labels ... for a message they believed in."
The Eric County clerk vowed to help balance the budget "the right way, not on backs of our seniors."
During the campaign, she highlighted the national fight, telling CNN before the election, "Corwin has 100% embraced the Paul Ryan budget. Even when Republicans in Washington walk away from it, she's been asked again and again, and she continues to support it."
Corwin called Hochul's message "scare tactics," and had argued, "she's trying to put out the idea that I'm trying to end Medicare. There's nothing further from the truth, I'm working to protect Medicare.
Minutes after the results were announced, both parties sought to paint far different implications of the race.
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, "Tonight's result has far-reaching consequences beyond New York."
Schultz said "it demonstrates that Republicans and Independent voters, along with Democrats, will reject extreme policies like ending Medicare that even Newt Gingrich called radical."
She said that she hopes the GOP will listen to voters.
"With this election in the rear-view mirror, it is my hope that Republicans will accept the message being sent by voters in this race, in the polls and at town hall meetings across the country and work with Democrats to get our fiscal house in order while protecting Medicare and other initiatives vital to our economic recovery," she said.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Steve Israel said, "We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare."
But National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said the race does not have national implications.
"Obviously, each side would rather win a special election than lose," he said. "But to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky. History shows one important fact: the results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes. If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus argued the presence of a third party candidate was a factor in the race.
"Corwin ran a strong campaign in spite of facing a Democrat and a Democrat posed as a Tea Party candidate, both of whom sought to distract from the central issues in the minds of voters: restoring our economy and creating jobs," he said in a statement. "If we have learned anything from these results, it is that Democrats will stop at nothing to preserve the status quo in Washington, which is propelling our country towards bankruptcy."
Looking to the race for the seat next fall, Priebus said, "there is no question Kathy Hochul will have a tough time holding onto this seat in 2012 with Barack Obama and his failed economic leadership weighing heavily on the minds of western New York voters when they return to the polls."
Both parties have brought in some of their big guns to stump for their party's candidates.
House Speaker John Boehner and Cantor made recent trips to the district to campaign for Corwin.
For the Democrats, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, one of the Senate Democratic leaders, went to the district recently to campaign for Hochul, as did the state's other Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
CNN's Paul Steinhauser, Eric Cantor, Kate Bolduan and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.