Jim Geraghty on Burns's loss: Actually, maybe we're not going to take back the House

Pessimism is my business. And thanks to last night’s agonizing GOP flameout in Murtha’s district, business is good.

Actually, I’m not feeling too eeyorish about this. Let Jay Cost explain:

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…

And let’s not forget the Pennsylvania Senate primary. As I watched Sestak rise in the polls, and saw the flood of Senate primary advertising here in Western Pennsylvania, I knew that Mark Critz – the Democratic candidate in PA-12 – was being helped. The Sestak-Specter contest was driving up interest, and both candidates were putting out pro-Democratic messages. Both factors were good for Critz. It’s difficult to quantify, but this purchased him some votes.

So, we had a political-demographic tilt of this district toward the Democrats that was enhanced by the high-profile Senate race and a presumably substantial union GOTV effort. We also had what amounted to two anti-Obama candidates in the race. If you didn’t know that Mark Critz was a Democrat, his advertising would not have clarified matters for you. He ran as a pro-gun, pro-life, anti-health care reform, anti-cap-and-trade Democrat – or, as the lefty blogosphere likes to call them, a reviled “ConservaDem.” Basically, he ran as a Truman Democrat, not as an Obama/Pelosi Democrat. What’s more, the DCCC spent thousands on advertising that blasted Republican Tim Burns for his “support” of the Fair Tax, an idea that only the Democratic leadership is seriously considering at the moment. Most Democratic incumbents are standing for reelection, which means they will have to defend their voting records. Critz was not so burdened.

Geraghty made many of the same points this morning at the Corner, devoting an entire post to “the Sestak effect” on Critz’s numbers. In any case, it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions about broader anti-liberal and anti-incumbent sentiment from a victory by a guy who’s neither liberal nor an incumbent. Dave Weigel adds an interesting footnote too:

Here, from one of my conversations with strategists who tried to elect Tim Burns in PA-12, is perhaps the best spin on how the party’s loss in a Cook Political Report-rated R+1 district is not a sign that Republicans will underperform in November.

So: 45,777 people voted in the Republican primary in PA-12, choosing Burns to run again in November. And 82,695 people voted in the Democratic primary, choosing Mark Critz. But in the special, Critz won 71,684 votes and Burns won 59,476 votes. The positive way to look at this: Burns won, and Critz lost, around 17 percent of Democratic votes.

The lesson, in other words: If everything breaks the Dems’ way — deep blue district, conservative candidate, no voting record to tie him to, and lopsided turnout in their favor — they still lose upwards of 20 percent of their own base. I’ll be plenty satisfied, and you will too, if that dynamic holds in November. One genuinely depressing thing, though, is that turnout was lopsided in their favor. That’s understandable insofar as Specter/Sestak was a barnburner while Toomey’s primary was a snooze, but still — this was a precious opportunity to give Obama and the Democratic leadership a panic attack. Had Burns pulled it off, the media would be shrieking today about the coming Republican tsunami; the amnesty bill and cap and trade would be well and truly dead instead of on life support. Every Republican in the district who wasn’t bedridden should have been at the polls yesterday. Which reminds me of another of Geraghty’s points: Burns framed the race as a referendum on Pelosi and The One, believing that that was the way to get GOPers and centrist Dems angry and motivated. And maybe it did, but not nearly enough — which is a worrisome lesson to learn, given the fact that that’s surely the Republican strategy for the fall. Blue Dogs who voted for ObamaCare will still be in dire straits, but it’ll probably be local issues rather than the sort of stuff that gets HA readers excited that decides who holds the House. And needless to say, that’s a crapshoot.

Update: Candygram from Coulter to the GOP: Stop raising expectations.

Thanks to all the happy talk, if the Republican actually had won, it would have been Page 16 news. But when the Democrat won, it seemed like an against-all-odds, come-from-behind Hoosiers victory!

Why were Republicans predicting victory in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1? Given a choice between two candidates who both hate ObamaCare, why would lifelong Democrats not vote for the Democrat?

Your job, Republicans, is not to go on Fox News and whisper sweet nothings in conservatives’ ears. Your job is to repeal the Obama agenda. Raising expectations so high that a 30-seat Republican pickup will seem like a loss is not helping.