“Where is the wave?” sneers Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen. Indeed, with the loss of Republican Tim Burns to Democrat Mark Critz in the special election to fill out the remaining seven months of John Murtha’s term, liberal partisans injected conventional wisdom with steroids in order to wildly spin their way into making us believe that the loss in PA-12 means that the GOP wave has crested and talk of massive losses in November is poppycock.
This is the only district in the country that backed Kerry in 2004, but McCain in 2008, suggesting it was trending heavily in the GOP’s direction. If there’s going to be a backlash against Dems right now, this should be the place to find it. Indeed, it was the bulk of Burns’ platform — he specifically ran against Washington, Speaker Pelosi, and the Obama presidency, a pitch Republicans intend to duplicate in other competitive districts through the fall.
And while polls showed Burns with a slight edge going into the election, Critz nevertheless won fairly easily.
It should be noted that McCain won the 12th by a razor-thin margin, largely due to the strong pro-life bent of district voters. It should also be noted that Murtha more than likely helped carry Kerry to a narrow victory in 2004, as he ran unopposed in that election — an election that occurred before much of Murtha’s sleaze became generally known and where he had been a wildly popular political figure for a generation. It has usually been a toss-up district in the last five presidential elections, reflecting a nearly 2-1 Democratic registration advantage offset by the conservative social bent of residents. In other words, trying to draw a conclusion about any “trending” the district may be undergoing is an exercise in futility.
Really now, what the heck is Benen celebrating? The Democratic winner angrily denounced Burns for suggesting he would have voted for ObamaCare. Critz is also in opposition to much of the Obama/Pelosi agenda. In short, you had two candidates who got 100% of the vote who opposed health care reform, oppose cap and trade, and are pro-life and pro-gun.
Sounds like a real big win for Democrats.
Neither was it a win for Republicans, however. There have been seven special elections to fill congressional seats since President Obama took office, and the Democrats have now won all seven. In each race, the GOP’s strategy rested on nationalizing the contest by trying to tie the Democrat to the policies and personality of Nancy Pelosi and (later) President Obama. At the time, it seemed the best way to tap into voter anger over spending, health care reform, bailouts, and the whole mess that people are fed up with in Washington. Clearly, this tack has not been a productive one, and the GOP better go back to the drawing board and refine their line of attack.
In hindsight, big Republican wins in governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey as well as Scott Brown’s upset Senate win in Massachusetts can perhaps be better attributed to the lack of quality opposition and local concerns rather than a generic test of strength against the president and the speaker. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) agrees, saying that the GOP “will take the lessons learned from this campaign and move forward in preparation for November.” He also pointed out that it seems pretty clear that the Democrats will seek to co-opt Republican issues in many districts by having their candidates run away from the liberal agenda of Obama/Pelosi and embrace more moderate positions in hopes of deflecting criticism.
Good luck with that. House Democrats running in November will not have the luxury of running against ObamaCare — not when they voted for it. And even if the Senate refuses to take up cap and trade this year, House Democrats voted overwhelmingly for it last year. Those two votes, along with bailouts and government takeovers, will matter more than any re-branding the incumbents will attempt this fall as voters assess which candidate to choose.
The voters may be less angry by November than they were a month ago. Republican enthusiasm may not be quite as high as it has been come election day. But with miserable jobs numbers expected well into next year — experts are predicting an unemployment rate over 10% — the pitchforks will be out in strength across much of the country and it will largely be Democrats who will be gored as a result.
Meanwhile, how some Democrats can spin the loss of Arlen Specter and the horrible showing by Blanche Lincoln into anything save a dire crisis is beyond me. Specter lost to netroots fave Rep. Joe Sestak, who seems a perfect fit for a Reid-led Senate. No doubt he will be a good little drone in the Democrats’ Borg collective.
Specter was backed by the Democratic establishment from one end of the state to another, as well as a veritable who’s who of Democrats in Washington. In the end, it appears that Pennsylvanians tired of Specter’s mutable loyalties and arrogance, retiring the former Democrat, former Republican, and now former senator for good.
But that doesn’t mitigate the worrisome notion for Democrats that with so many more seats to protect in the House, and nearly a dozen seats up for grabs in the Senate, the anti-incumbent, anti-establishment mood that was clearly demonstrated yesterday will yet roll over them, handing a smashing victory to Republicans.
And yet, there are two sides to this anti-Washington coin and Republicans have their own problems. In their case, however, they are problems the Democrats would dearly love to have. Figuring out a way to channel the anger, energy, enthusiasm, and frightening determination of ordinary citizens represented by the tea party movement is something the GOP has yet to figure out.
In Kentucky, tea party favorite Rand Paul breezed to a huge win over the establishment candidate Trey Grayson, who was supported by almost every major Republican in the state, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Paul, son of GOP gadfly Ron Paul, holds views that can more accurately be described as libertarian than conservative. He rode to victory via an impressive grassroots campaign that featured thousands of volunteers — many from out of state — who supplied the muscle, sinew, and cash that every insurgency needs. He made it look too easy.
It won’t be easy to convince the tea party movement that Republicans have changed their stripes and are now four-square in support of smaller government and fiscal responsibility. In fact, Republicans may not have to. The alternatives the Democrats are pushing are even worse. Perhaps this will not mean a formal or organized fusion between the party and the activists in many districts. But in competitive races, whatever electoral activities tea partiers participate in can be chalked up as a plus for the Republican. In short, the activists may supply the margin of victory in close contests.
Still, as John Harris and Jim Vandehei point out in Politico, the tea party movement is cause for much worry in both parties:
The tea party’s defeat of Grayson suggests a new found ability to mobilize effectively by a movement that previously had been more like an anti-government, anti-Obama primal scream. This is scary to Democrats because it’s harnessing a sort of mirror image of the force that got Obama elected, and scary to Republicans because of its willingness to be very un-Republican, to throw off the tradition of electoral deference in the GOP that has tended to squelch dissent.
Democrats have their own headaches to deal with when it comes to their base, as evidenced not only by Specter’s loss but also the deep trouble in which Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln finds herself. Bleeding support since the beginning of the year due to her maneuvering on health care reform, Lincoln didn’t come close to the 50% threshold needed to win the primary outright and now must face SEIU- and MoveOn.org-backed Bill Halter in a runoff election in three weeks.
Halter has the cash and the momentum, as well as the enthusiastic support of the netroots who view Lincoln as a Republican-lite. This is extremely bad news for the Democrats who may end up with a candidate perfectly suited to run in New York or California, but who would make Arkansas voters run into the waiting arms of the GOP choice Rep. John Boozman. Whether in the name of anti-incumbency or ideological purity, the chances of a Democratic hold in Arkansas would take a huge hit if Lincoln can’t pull off a victory in the runoff election.
So the major question today as we look at the results from last night: why are many Democrats gloating over the results in PA-12 when all other results are still pointing to a disaster in November?