Did Joe Sestak’s Surge Save Mark Critz?

Talking to an NRCC guy who’s looked at last night’s numbers extensively, he concludes that the polls and expectations in Pennsylvania’s special election were thrown off not merely by the competitive Democratic Senate primary, but particularly by Joe Sestak’s surge in the final two weeks.

Committee strategists worried about the effect of the Senate primary at first, but as they started getting polling numbers back, they suspected the special election would be the chief driver for turnout in this part of the state. Until the beginning of May or so, that seemed to be the case. But in the final weeks, Sestak’s surge — driven by massive amounts of television advertising, hitting Specter for his ties to George W. Bush — drove a sudden burst of interest in voting among the Democratic base. This analyst thinks these Sestak-driven voters amounted to about 8,000 to 10,000 voters, roughly the size of Critz’s margin of victory. The Sestak-surge-driven Democrats turned out because they were determined to toss out Specter; they were more liberal and more partisan than your average district Democrat. Thus, Tim Burns, who usually ran well among Democrats, in the neighborhood of 20 percent, probably only won about 15 percent of Democrats last night.

This NRCC number-cruncher notes that on paper, the Republicans did have high-intensity turnout; they outperformed the highest Republican level of turnout for a primary – although that’s not the highest bar to clear; since Murtha usually appeared untouchable, GOP primaries in this district weren’t usually big affairs, with 20,000 to 26,000 votes. The Republicans brought out 45,000 votes and expected the Democrats to bring out about 60,000 votes. (If Burns took 20 percent of that, and kept most of the Republican vote, he would win handily.)

Instead, 83,000 Democratic voters turned out.

This NRCC number-cruncher isn’t drawing a ton of conclusions from this race yet, but he wonders if there’s a need for Republicans to be wary of poll numbers indicating rural, red-state, or coal-country Democrats are turning against the party they traditionally support: “We can’t take that at face value. We’ve got to have a little cynicism about those numbers, because these are folks who have been voting for Democrats for decades, and their moms and dads were voting for Democrats for decades before that. They don’t just jump across that easily.”

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