While I was not a fan of adding comments to Campaign Spot, I’m finding it worthwhile so far. A reader asked, “What is your final assessment (if you have one) on the implications of PA-12 race? Was it that the Independents failed to show up? I read more than a few analyses, including your own, that seemed pretty gloomy about GOP momentum as a result of that race.”
I’m still disappointed by PA-12; I think that the NRCC explanation makes sense, but I wish they had been more prepared for the tougher scenario they ultimately faced. In short, in the run-up to the special election, Republican Tim Burns was showing strong crossover appeal in this heavily Democratic district, garnering support from about 20 percent of Democrats (the final Public Policy Polling survey had him carrying 22 percent). But then Sestak started his statewide advertising offensive, and that had two effects on the special election’s turnout: first, it drove up the number of Democrats who showed up, but it also brought out more liberal and partisan Democrats, the kind who would never vote for a Republican in a million years. If Burns had won 20 percent of the Democratic vote instead of 15 percent, he gets about another 3,500 votes (and Critz loses the same total); throw in the 3,148 votes for the Libertarian, and Burns would have won by about 100 votes. (It wasn’t reasonable to expect Burns to win easily, but it was reasonable to expect a closer finish.)
The Republican base in this district, meager as it is, did turn out pretty well; as Henry Olsen noted, “in every county but one (Greene), the Republicans voted at a higher percentage than did the Democrats.” Also worth noting was that independents simply didn’t show up in PA-12; they presumably were not used to voting on primary day.
Does this leave me less optimistic about 2010? Well, if you’re a conservative, you see issue after issue that could, and probably should, spell doom for Democrats this year: unemployment is still at or near all-time highs, the deficit is beyond belief, the housing slump marches on endlessly, Democrats in Congress ignored public opinion and passed an unpopular health-care bill, they’re applauding Calderon and trashing a popular law in Arizona, the Gulf of Mexico has turned into a giant oil slick, the Dow Jones Industrial Average seems more volatile and less stable than Lindsay Lohan, North Korea’s sinking ships, Iran’s getting away with building nukes, we keep having ominous near-misses with terror attacks, and the Democrats’ instinctive response to the Gulf oil mess is to raise gasoline taxes when it’s already $3 a gallon or worse in much of the country.
You look at that and think, how is the GOP not set to gain 100 seats? But Obama’s approval is still even with or slightly above his disapproval in most polls, the generic ballot is still bouncing around and averaging close to a tie, and there are still incumbent Democrats in economically depressed parts of the country who are polling pretty healthily. (I can’t believe Californians are taking Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial bid seriously.) Massachusetts voters really want to endure another four years of Deval Patrick? Ohio’s willing to hope that Ted Strickland does better in a second term?
Americans are clearly dissatisfied with where they are, and a chunk blame the (mostly Democrat) incumbent governing class. But not quite enough of them are ready to see the 1994-on-steroids scenarios some have discussed. Of course, there’s five months to go. But I think the wilder visions of GOP gains aren’t in the cards yet. As Eric Cantor told me this morning, the Republicans at each level still have a lot of work to do.