At first blush, Democrats should have nothing to fear in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District special election. John Murtha held this seat for decades. Democrats have a 2-1 registration advantage over Republicans. Their candidate was a Murtha aide for over ten years, while their opponent has had little political experience. And yet, the AP has gotten a big whiff of panic from Pennsylvania Democrats (via JWF):
In what was the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha’s western Pennsylvania district — reachable through John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport or John P. Murtha Highway — Democrats watch nervously, hoping his former top aide can hold on to the House seat.
Mark Critz, who worked for Murtha for more than a decade in Pennsylvania, including the past three as district director, is in a fierce fight with Republican businessman Tim Burns in the May 18 special election. The national GOP has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to push Burns’ candidacy, sensing a legitimate shot of capturing the seat held for 36 years by Murtha, an ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
A loss would unnerve Democrats, who face the backlash against the party in power typical for a midterm election year, and depress the outlook for the party’s other candidates in Pennsylvania, which Barack Obama won easily in 2008. …
Growing opposition to Obama and the Democrats, tea party-driven discontent and unhappiness with the president’s health care law give Republicans hope that the 42-year-old Burns, who lives in Eighty Four, can win.
The polling shows a very close race — with Burns in the lead. That has Democrats worried about how other normally-safe districts might turn out in November. That fear has come out in Critz’ campaigning, where he has tried walking a tightrope between opposition to ObamaCare and refusing to commit to overturning it. In a debate yesterday, Burns hammered Critz as to whether his opposition means anything at all if he refuses to take action once elected, a hypocrisy that will not have gone unnoticed by voters watching the debate.
Both national parties have spent plenty of money on this race, with the NRCC outpacing the DCCC by almost $100,000. The DCCC has split its advertising between positive ads on Critz and negative ads against Burns. That’s a bit of a surprise, considering a Democrat shouldn’t feel the need to sell himself in a district with a 2-1 registration advantage. It shows the big problem Democrats face, which is a decided lack of enthusiasm among their own base in the face of overwhelming enthusiasm among Republicans and independents. That’s exactly what has them panicked.
The election will take place in less than two weeks. Special elections hinge on organization and GOTV efforts, but even with that in mind, the big question will be whether Democrats can actually hold districts with 2-1 advantages — and how much it will cost them to do so. If they lose PA-12, that will mean a lot more seats could be in play in November, a possibility they don’t want making headlines later this month. As in dating, desperation is no aphrodisiac in politics.