Is The PA-12 Election A Bellwether?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 20, 2010

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Not really, according to Jay Cost:

Let’s begin with the political demography of the district. In 2004, George W. Bush won 255 congressional districts. PA-12 was not one of them. From 1994 to 2006, the Republicans held the United States House of Representatives, controlling as many as 232 seats. PA-12 was never one of them. In fact, the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania legislature created a heavily Democratic 12th district in 2002 by moving conservative voters around to generate the Republican-leaning 18th district (currently held by Republican Tim Murphy).

[. . .]

. . . PA-12 had the second-highest number of primary participants, behind only OH-6. This is important because the Pennsylvania presidential primary was closed; one had to be a registered Democrat to vote. This means that there are a lot of Democrats in PA-12. These Democrats are pretty well unionized. After all, this is the district that includes a place named Uniontown! Unionized Democrats in a special election are a force to be reckoned with, to say the least.

. . . even though they did not particularly care for Obama when he faced off against Hillary Clinton, the residents of PA-12 swung behind him reasonably well in the general election. Obama did better in the PA-12 general than he did in any of these other districts. This means that these self-identified Democrats still actually vote Democratic there. That’s in contrast to states like Kentucky and West Virginia, where people who call themselves Democrats have been behaving like Republicans in the last 15 years.

This is a hugely important point to bear in mind. My back-of-the-envelope calculation of the party turnout in last night’s election indicates that a whopping 62% of the voters were Democratic, just 34% Republican, and a measly 4% were Independent or had a third party affiliation. If you give Republican Burns 90% of the Republican vote and 60% of the Independent vote, that means Burns won about one in five Democrats. That’s a very decent haul, but it is just not enough in a district where there are so many Democrats coming out to vote.

It’s still disappointing for Republicans to have lost PA-12 in Tuesday’s race. But as I wrote, it really didn’t constitute a surprise that they did. Cost shows why quite convincingly. I am sure that this explanation comes too late to counter the spin that the GOP’s failure to win PA-12 constitutes a setback for Republican efforts to gain a chamber or two of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections, but if the media wants to be honest about matters, it will give prominence to Cost’s analysis in discussing the broader ramifications of Mark Critz’s victory in the district.

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