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May 19, 2010

Maybe the Democrats Aren't Doomed, Says Politico

Possibly they're right -- we did lose a big one last night.

(At least for now: Remember November.)

However, Politico is overlooking something. Yes, Murtha's district leans conservative -- but not Republican. Politico ticks off the poll numbers that demonstrate the district seems to have a conservative temper in making its case for Democratic resurgence, but elides an important fact:

After all, this is a heavily Democratic district that elected the same Democrat the last eighteen elections. Their registration edge is in double digits, so an eight-point loss for Republicans isn’t a bad showing.

Politico ignores this fact as contrary to the narrative and simply declares this to be some kind of Republican bastion that we lost when we should have won. No; it was a district we should have lost, in any other cycle, but had hope for in this one cycle -- and those hopes were dashed. Which isn't really surprising.

But more importantly, Murtha's district has leaned far more Murtha than for any party. Murtha Pork is the lifeblood of this economically depressed area; an awful lot of people rely, directly and indirectly, upon Murtha's -- or his proxy's -- ability to funnel millions of dollars from the rest of the country into this small slice of Pennsylvania.

If ideology were the determinant consideration here, the district should have fallen to the Republicans a while ago.

Furthermore, Critz ran as a conservative Republican, nearly, adopting the Tea Party's positions on the bailouts and health care and the social conservatives' position on abortion. This isn't really some kind of vindication for the Democratic Party generally, and certainly not for Obama's out-and-proud brand of liberalism.

One more thing: The media has been telling us that the mood in the country -- the strong disapproval of incumbent Democrats -- was anti-incumbent and not anti-Democratic at all. They've made this claim too many times to recount.

So, in Pennsylvania, a non-incumbent faced another non-incumbent and the non-incumbent won, as he had to.

Or, since Critz was, arguably, the proxy for the ultra-incumbent but quite dead Abscam Jack Murtha, then perhaps this is a signal that incumbents aren't necessarily in trouble. But only in places that rely heavily on federal spending.

Either way, the MFM could keep with their precious anti-incumbency storyline.

But now we're told this was actually a victory for the Democratic cause.

When Republicans are winning, it's only a victory for the forces of anti-incumbency, with no import as regards the nation's preferred ideology. But suddenly when the Democrats win one (and this was always a longshot for us) it's no longer a referendum on incumbency at all, but a referendum on the Democratic Party, and they won, so for the MFM it's Yayy, us!

All the evidence pointing to monster Republican House gains this fall—the Scott Brown upset win in Massachusetts, the scary polling numbers in once-safely Democratic districts, the ever-rising number of Democratic seats thought to be in jeopardy—was contradicted Tuesday.

In the only House race that really mattered to both parties—the special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha in Pennsylvania’s 12th District—Republicans failed spectacularly, losing on a level playing field where, in this favorable environment, they should have run roughshod over the opposition.

Given the resources the GOP poured into the effort to capture the seat and the decisiveness of the defeat—as it turned out, it wasn’t really that close—the outcome casts serious doubt on the idea that the Democratic House majority is in jeopardy and offers comfort to a Democratic Party that is desperately in search of a glimmer of hope.

The district itself couldn’t have been more primed for a Republican victory. According to one recent poll, President Barack Obama’s approval rating in the 12th was a dismal 35 percent, compared to 55 percent who disapproved. His health care plan was equally unpopular—just 30 percent of those polled supported it, while 58 percent were in opposition.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was even more disliked in the blue-collar, western Pennsylvania-based seat: Just 23 percent viewed her favorably, compared to 63 percent who viewed her unfavorably.

Still, Democrat Mark Critz managed to pull off an eight-point victory, 53 percent to 45 percent, over Republican Tim Burns in a district that John McCain narrowly won in 2008—the only one in the nation that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and McCain four years later.

The race marked the third highly-contested, fair-fight special House election that the GOP has dropped in the last year.

The seat Murtha held for 36 years is precisely the sort of Rust Belt district—economically populist and culturally traditional—that Republicans must win to claim the 40 seats necessary to take back the House.

Yet the way Critz and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee won the contest offered a reminder that the prospect of a GOP majority remains a mirage. And Tuesday’s result has Democrats breathing a sigh of relief, thinking they’ve found a formula to mitigate their losses in what will still be a difficult election season.

The playbook from the Pennsylvania special election isn’t complicated: Make the election a choice between two local candidates and not a national referendum on the Democratic Party or the state of the nation; savage the Republican from the outset and don’t let up; keep the focus on jobs and core economic issues; most important, separate yourself from your national party’s policies and politicians as necessary.

It may not be complicated -- Run as a Republican! -- but not many districts share with the Johnstown area such a special focus on the "core economic issue" of shoveling money hand over fist into one district.

Edit: Politico's selective reporting put it in my head that this district is basically a Republican one, and I wrote it up initially admitting the district "leans Republican." I have rewritten it to reflect the fact it actually leans Democratic, and pretty hard at that.

A handful of districts are like this -- socially conservative but fiscally very liberal. But few districts outside of the Virginia suburbs have such a huge, direct financial interest in a free-spending federal government.


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posted by Ace at 01:39 PM

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