Several states held their primaries last night, and Pennsylvania held a special election in the 12th Congressional district to replace Congressman John Murtha, who passed away in February. The 12th has an interesting distinction: of the 435 congressional districts, it's the only one that John Kerry won in 2004, but John McCain won in 2008. Most pundits suggested that the race was a toss up, and a bellwether for the mood of the electorate as well. The results: Democrat Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns by a stunning 53% to 45%.
Here's what respected political analyst Charlie Cook said a few weeks ago, before the PA-12 election:
"I've spent the last couple of days talking to some of the brightest Democrats in the party that are not in the White House. And it's very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don't lose the House. It's very hard. Are the seats there right this second? No. But we're on a trajectory on the House turning over...."
And here's what the LA Times, and Charlie Cook, had to say after Critz's victory:
"Republicans should have won the race hands-down. Obama lost the district in 2008 and his popularity has plummeted since; Burns admitted he hadn't even prepared a concession speech. Instead, the defeat extended the GOP's losing streak in special House contests to four this election cycle and 11 going back to 2008 — making it that much more difficult to capture the 40 seats the party needs to win the House.
"This should not have been rocket science," said nonpartisan election handicapper Charles Cook. "How can you win 40 if you can't even focus on one and get it done?"
It was a big night for progressives. In the Democratic primary in Kentucky, Jack Conway defeated Dan Mongiardo, in Pennsylvania Joe Sestak defeated Arlen Specter and in Arkansas Bill Halter forced Blanche Lincoln into a runoff. In each case, it was a victory for the more progressive (and arguably more electable) candidate.
There's been a lot of talk this year about the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, and the suggestion that it might lead to big GOP gains in November because conservatives are more fired up to go to the polls. If that gap exists, it sure wasn't on display last night. In conservative Kentucky, 513,000 voted in the Democratic Senate primary versus only 348,000 in the equally heated Republican race.
The LA Times article cited above summarizes the situation neatly:
"For months, the GOP has been buoyed by the notion that 2010 will be a big year, delivering control of the House and perhaps even the Senate in November. But Tuesday's election results — arguably the best campaign day for Democrats since President Obama's victory in 2008 — suggest the climb back to a majority may be steeper than Republicans thought."