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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Democratic Senate Primary Did Not Defeat Tim Burns



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Many readers are arguing that Tim Burns’s loss is largely attributable to the high-profile Democratic Senate primary, and competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary, with nothing comparable on the GOP side.

This is a factor, but I’m not ready to say this is why Tim Burns lost. It’s not like this quirk wasn’t known months ago. If you’re the Republican competing in a special election, you’ve got to account for it and have a plan to overcome it.

The pollsters knew this, and two of the three showed Burns winning by small margins. I’m told the internal polling of the Burns camp showed him leading by a small margin. This district wasn’t really considered a key battlefield between Specter and Sestak; it’s not like either Democrat dumped a lot of resources into this corner of the state. Almost every analyst put this race in the “toss-up” category; the sense was that the district demographics and Senate primary factor made the race challenging for Burns, but not unwinnable.

If the Senate-driven Democratic turnout was destined to make this race a Critz win, why did the NRCC spend almost $1 million? Why did the DCCC spend about the same amount? Heading into this race, both sides saw this seat as winnable.

This turned out to be a 10,000 vote margin, 8 percentage points. Tim Burns, a likeable guy who appeared to be a good campaigner, ended up dramatically underperforming.

UPDATE: A reader in the region offers this assessment:

I’m a GOP party person in the 12th District and worked the Burns campaign, all day yesterday at the polls etc.  We have 9% independents in this county and virtually none of them voted in this special election, partly due to the way the state conducted the election as a part of the primary.  One polling place even messed up the voting because they thought the third paper ballot sheet was just for the 12th race, when it was actually the independent ballot.  Your one reader that commented that the independents control elections may be correct in this instance.  Factor in a abysmally low turnout and the Russell campaign and it is very possible that Burns can win in the fall, although personally I think he needs to stop running stupid negative ads (and I mean both stupid and negative, a deadly combination) and dial down the robo-telephone calls.  EVERYONE yesterday was completely fed up with the intrusive robo telephone calls.  Don’t politicians understand the fact that people put themselves on the “do-not-call” lists for a reason?  And to call the Pittsburgh area smack dab in the middle of a Penguins hockey playoff game?  Dumb beyond belief.  Wise up and the seat can be had by the GOP.


Tags: Mark Critz , Tim Burns


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