Pennsylvania’s 12th special election 2010
A special election, or a by-election if you will, was held in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district on May 18 along with the primary elections across the state of Pennsylvania. The 12th is located in southwestern Pennsylvania, in the core of the Pennsylvanian Rust Belt. The current 12th district was formed in 2002 by the then-Republican state legislature as a gerrymandered district aimed to pack Democratic votes and provide the Republicans with the opportunity to win the 18th district, which covers wealthier Pittsburgh suburbs. The 12th covers old steelworks, coal mines and largely unionized working-class areas and has been long been a Democratic stronghold. However, voters in the 12th, like in much of Appalachia or so-called ‘Westsylvania’ are conservative on social issues such as abortion, guns or gay rights and, according to some, are former rednecks. In fact, the 12th was the only district to vote for Kerry in 2004 but McCain in 2008, reflecting Obama’s poor showing in much of ‘Westsylvania’.
The 12th has been held since 1976 by the colourful and controversial John Murtha, who died in February. Murtha, who opposed free trade and the Iraq War, got into trouble for corruption and comments made in 2008 saying that some of his constituents wouldn’t vote for Obama because they were racist and further said that the whole region used to be redneck. He was re-elected in 2008 with 57.8% of the vote against 42.1% for his Republican opponent.
The 12th, which narrowly chose McCain in 2008, was a key district for the Republicans to pick-up if they were going to make strong gains in November, enough to flip the House back to the Republicans. This was the perfect example of the ‘must-win’ district for the GOP. Their candidate was Tim Burns, who attempted to make the race a referendum on Obama-Pelosi (both of whom are very unpopular in the district), and advocated repeal of the healthcare law. The Democratic candidate was Mark Critz, a close protege of Murtha and a typical populist Democrat. He criticized the healthcare bill, but didn’t advocate its repeal, and distanced himself from Obama and Pelosi. The last PPP poll of the district (PPP was one of the only non-partisan pollsters to poll the race, though I suppose some will say PPP is Democratic) showed Burns up 48-47.
Here are the results:
Mark Critz (D) 52.6%
Tim Burns (R) 45.1%
Demo Agoris (L) 2.3%
While the contested Democratic primary likely boosted turnout in a district where Democrats hold a massive registration advantage, it remains a bad result for the Republicans and adds to an seven-win streak for Democrats in House special elections since 2008. This was a district Republicans needed to take to prove that they can really win in November. While they’re likely to take back at least a good dozen seats in November, these results show that they’ll need to be quite a bit higher if they’re to win back the House. The result is disappoiting, of course, for Republicans, but they could note that a) Critz distanced himself from Obama and became a Blue Dog-local candidate in a place where politics remain rather insular and b) Critz was helped by a contested Senate primary on the Democratic side which drove turnout up. Hope, for the Republicans, shouldn’t be lost.