Category Archives: Pennsylvania
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.
More coverage of primary season in the United States with the four states which voted last night: Arkansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Oregon.
Arkansas’ Class III Senate seat is up for election this year. Incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, a conservative Blue Dog, was first elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2004. She’s up for re-election this year, but her closeness to corporate America and her conservative votes make her one of the most vulnerable senators up this cycle, and on top of that she’s never been really much of a strong incumbent. She won in 1998 with 55% in 1998 and “only” 56% in 2004, despite Arkansas’ strong Democratic leanings at the state level. Her conservative votes, notably her much-noted opposition to health care (likely the result of a close relation with corporations), won her much ire from liberal Democrats and trade unions, who backed the insurgent Lt. Governor Bill Halter, who staged a late primary challenge to the weak incumbent. A third candidate, a conservative Democrat to the right of Lincoln (and very much anti-Obama), DC Morrison also ran.
The Republicans have been polling ahead of Democrats in all polling, and their field was dominated early on by Representative John Boozman, a popular representative from the Ozarks region of northwestern Arkansas. He faced a challenge from 2004 nominee Jim Holt and State Senator Gilbert Baker amongst others, but he was always the likely nominee.
Here are the results on the Democratic side, with 98.9% reporting:
Blanche Lincoln (D) 44.5%
Bill Halter (D) 42.5%
DC Morrison (D) 13.0%
There are no results from Searcy County (in white)
Halter and Lincoln will face off again in a runoff to be held on June 8. Halter came very close, sometimes even ahead at some points during the night, of Senator Lincoln, showing how extremely vulnerable she is. She seems to have held black voters and won in Little Rock (and the Ozarks), but Halter has seemingly dominated in large swathes of rural Arkansas, somewhat interestingly for the liberal insurgent to the conservative Blue Dog. It remains to be seen if Lincoln has an edge in the runoff, and if she can win the right-wing Morrison voters, but on the basis of last night’s results, she seems extremely vulnerable to Halter, who will have more time to polish his message, in a runoff. Yet, a runoff means that this race stretches out for a long time and will likely result in an internal division within the party, helping the Republicans. Boozman won 53% last night, meaning that there will be no runoff. Holt won a meager 17% while Gilbert Baker won 11%. Boozman must still be counted at the overwhelming favourite to win in November.
Arkansas’ Democratic Governor Mike Beebe, who succeeded retiring Republican Mike Huckabee in 2006, remains extremely popular and won’t face stiff competition from Republican Jim Keet. In fact, the surprise is that the Republicans actually managed to find a candidate, given that they didn’t field one against Senator Mark Pryor in 2006, who only faced a Greenie.
Kentucky’s Class III Senate seat is up for election this year. Republican incumbent Jim Bunning, first elected narrowly in 1998 and re-elected by a similarly narrow margin in 2004, is retiring after a series of controversial statements he made on various topics. In fact, he risked losing re-election if he ran. His retirement opened up the Republican field, which became a race between two candidates: Trey Grayson, Kentucky’s Secretary of State and the early-on establishment candidate and ophthalmologist Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul, and also a low-taxes campaigner and activist. Paul quickly seize Grayson’s early lead and led by double-digit in polls prior the primary. Rand Paul campaigned against the PATRIOT Act and against taxes, making him the candidate of the Tea Partiers, but the rest of his platform was generally conservative: pro-life, anti-gay marriage and the like. Obviously, to win in a state like Kentucky, which is as far away from libertarianism as you can get, you need to have the conservative rhetoric. Paul’s success came more from his insurgent anti-Washington attitude than from any love of libertarianism in a socially conservative state.
The Democrats had a contested race as well, between Lt. Governor Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway. Mongiardo was the favourite in all polls, and was the most conservative candidate in the race, while Conway, the insurgent, was the liberal candidate in the race.
Rand Paul (R) 58.8%
Trey Grayson (R) 35.4%
Bill Johnson (R) 2.2%
John Stephenson (R) 2.0%
Jon J. Scribner (R) 0.8%
Gurley L. Martin (R) 0.8%
Jack Conway (D) 44.1%
Daniel Mongiardo (D) 43.1%
Darlene Fitzgerald Price (D) 5.7%
James Buckmaster (D) 4.0%
Maurice Sweeney (D) 3.4%
Conway’s narrow victory was the marking result of the Kentucky primaries, especially given that Mongiardo had led in all but one poll (in December 2009). The map of the race reveals a close division between the coal mining regions of eastern Kentucky, where Mongiardo is from and where old Blue Dog-type populist politics dominate (as well as in the Purchase area of western Kentucky, the traditional Dixiecrat stronghold of the state) and Conway’s strong victories in Louisville and other more urbanized or developed areas in central Kentucky. Mongiardo has asked for a recanvass of the votes, but it’s unlikely that Conway’s victory will be fought. On the Republican side, Paul dominated all over, with the exception of a handful of counties, mostly in eastern Kentucky. Again, Paul played best in the same urbanized-developed area where Conway did best, on the Republican side, these areas include a lot of suburbs where low-tax rhetoric works wonder (just like Stutzman won Indianapolis suburbs in Indiana two weeks ago). Polls have given Paul a narrow advantage, but Conway is shown to be a stronger candidate than Mongiardo, meaning that this race is best called a tossup.
Oregon’s Class III Senate seat is up for election this year. Democratic incumbent Ron Wyden is favoured to win easily, and he beat minor primary challengers on the Democratic side with over 90% of the vote. Jim Huffman, a little know uni prof of some sort, won the Republican primary with nearly 42%, while his closest opponent polled 15%. Oregon’s Senate contest is not being watched much, and only one poll – by Rasmussen – was done in the state, showing Wyden leading Huffman 49-35. For the record, Oregon votes entirely by mail or drop-off ballot in primaries.
The Oregon gubernatorial contest to replace term-limited Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) might be a bit hotter than the Senate race. Former Governor John Kitzhaber (Governor between 1995 and 2003) won the Democratic primary with 66% of the vote against 29.5% for former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. For once, the Republican establishment candidate prevailed: Chris Dudley, a former NBA player, won 39.9% against 31.9% for Allen Alley, who found most of his strength in conservative rural eastern Oregon. Kitzhaber got national attention when he literally saved somebody’s life at a debate earlier this month. A Rasmussen poll in April showed both Dudley and Kitzhaber tied at 41% each, but then, Rasmussen has weird results at times.
Pennsylvania’s Class III Senate seat is up for election this year. The seat has been held by Arlen Specter since 1981, first elected as a moderate Republican and last re-elected by a wide margin in 2004. Specter, who became more and more at odds with the growingly conservative Republican Party, was never the favourite of conservatives. He narrowly survived a primary challenge by conservative Republican Congressman Pat Toomey, and was likely to face an extremely tough race against Toomey again in 2010, especially after being one of 3 Senate Republicans to vote in favour of Obama’s bailout package. Then, Specter left the party on April 28, 2009 and became a Democrat and voted for the healthcare bill. He faced opposition on the Democratic side from Congressman Joe Sestak, a former US Navy Vice Admiral and a liberal Democrat. Sestak ran to Specter’s left, and always referred to himself as Joe Sestak, the Democrat, a snide remark at Specter’s former Republican affiliation. Specter won the endorsement of Obama, Biden, Governor Ed Rendell, Harry Reid, John Kerry, the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state Democratic Party and most trade unions. Sestak notably won Barney Frank, NARAL and MoveOn’s endorsement. Specter had a huge lead over Sestak in 2009, but he blew it away thanks to a poor campaign, and by election day, it was tied.
On the Republican side, Pat Toomey, already running against Specter, became the favourite and faced opposition only from the fringe and perennial candidate Peg Luksik. Toomey, the former leader of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, is a favourite of the low-taxes and anti-pork crowd.
Here are the results:
Joe Sestak (D) 54.0%
Arlen Specter (D) 46.0%
Pat Toomey (R) 81.5%
Peg Luksik (R) 18.5%
Sestak’s victory was surprisingly large, despite Specter leading early returns and tied polling prior to the primary. He won most support in rural areas, while Specter only won Philadelphia (where the Democratic machine and black voters backed him), Dauphin and Lackawanna counties (blue-collar areas where local party support and unions won it for Specter). Seemingly, wealthy suburban voters as well as rural voters in traditionally Republican inland Pennsylvania were Sestak’s strongest backers. Sestak’s victory is yet another in a series of anti-establishment victories by insurgents, and Specter is the second sitting Senator to lose renomination in 2010 after Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett fell victim to right-wing opponents at a State Convention earlier this month. Sestak is seen by most as the strongest candidate to take on Toomey, who still maintains a narrow lead in polls – though Sestak could narrow that down and win.
On the gubernatorial side, incumbent Governor Ed Rendell (D) is term-limited. The Republicans, who nominated Attorney General Tom Corbett (69-31 against State Rep Sam Rohrer) is the favourite against the Democrats. Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) Chief Executive Dan Onorato was the top contender on the Democratic field against Auditor General Jack Wagner, former Congressman Joe Hoeffel and State Senator Anthony Williams. Onorato won 45% against 24% for Wagner, 18% for Williams and 13% for Hoeffel. A map of that primary is attached to the Senatorial primary map. I don’t think it should be too hard to figure out where Williams and Hoeffel are from.
In final news, in last week’s West Virginia primary, long-time Democratic Congressman Alan Mollohan, representing WV-01 since 1983, fell victim to a right-wing primary challenger (Mollohan is already a blue dog, so imagine more right-wing than him) Mike Oliverio, a State Senator. Oliverio is quite far to the right and it would be hard to distinguish him from a conservative Republican.