Grumbling over the NRCC?

The failure of the Republicans to win the special election in PA-12 has Democrats gloating, and Republicans grumbling.   Nancy Pelosi tells The Hill that she guarantees Democrats will have a majority in the House after the midterms:


In an interview with The Hill, the Speaker said it was very important to her that Democrats retain the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) seat, which they did Tuesday night.

Pelosi, who was very close with Murtha, said Republicans once again tried to nationalize an election by way of an “anti-Obama, anti-Pelosi” message.

“It didn’t work,” Pelosi said, calling the strategy Republicans have employed regularly in recent years “predictable.” …

Despite some predictions of a huge GOP wave this fall, Pelosi says it’s not going to happen: “One thing I know for sure is that Democrats will retain their majority in the House of Representatives.”

Chris Van Hollen, chair of the DCCC, echoed Pelosi:

Pelosi and DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) received a standing ovation Wednesday from the Democratic Caucus celebrating the victory.

“The Republicans did a test-drive of their November strategy in Pennsylvania 12, and it crashed,” Van Hollen said. “What Mark Critz did was focus on the choices that people have on issues that they care about, especially on jobs and the economy, and demonstrated that the efforts to scare voters by talking about President Obama or Speaker Pelosi didn’t work.”

House Democratic leaders continue to tell vulnerable members that they have a plan for victory. “The message to them is if you are doing what you need to do back home and you are defining your plan on the economy and jobs then you are going to be OK,” the leadership aide said.


All of this self-congratulation has the GOP on edge.  CNN reports that the blame has begun to fall on the NRCC, where Rep. Pete Sessions may take the hit for the loss:

Two Republican sources at Wednesday’s House GOP Conference meeting tell CNN that there was a lot of grumbling about the party’s loss in a special election Tuesday for the vacant House seat in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district. …

Both sources, one a Republican lawmaker and one a senior GOP staffer, said National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Pete Sessions took responsibility for the loss and promised to study the results and learn the lessons of the Burns’ defeat.

Both sources said they did not believe there would be an effort to replace Rep. Sessions as chairman of the NRCC, but said it was made clear there is deep dissatisfaction.

Jim Geraghty disputes the idea that the NRCC blew anything, and wonders whether anyone took a close look at the district before assuming the Republicans would win it.  He also points to more encouraging signs for Republicans:

While I think every Republican is frustrated with that the NRCC hasn’t managed to pick off any recent special elections, only so much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the NRCC or Sessions. Overall, the NRCC seems to be running pretty smoothly; no fundraisers spending money at bondage-themed clubs or nodding as a CNN host comparing the party to Nazis here.

They’ve got the wind at their back, but recruitment has generally gone quite well.  Tom Ganley went from a long-shot challenge to Rob Portman in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary to a serious chance of knocking off Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio. Tim Griffin also forsake a rumored Senate bid to become a top-tier House candidate. While Charles Djou is greatly helped by the two Democrats, one Republican dynamic of the special election, that race isn’t competitive without a good Republican candidate well-liked within that district. There’s a mix of former congressmen, veteran state legislators, retired military officers, small businessmen and philanthropists, a two-time lumberjack speed climbing world champion, and the Wisconsin Red Cross Hero of the Year who saved a woman from a knife-wielding assailant in 2007. NRCC top guys have told me their approach is consider every district winnable, and then find the candidate whose profile – experience, ideology, geography, ability to fund-raise, media savvy – fits what is needed to win that district. From time to time, they’ve tried to nudge GOP candidates who aren’t their favorites to other races, but for the most part the committee is content to let the primaries play themselves out.

In the New York special elections, losing Republican candidates Jim Tedisco and Dede Scozzafava were selected by the local party committees. Once they were picked, all the NRCC could do was do their best to elect the Republican. You’ve seen the reaction to Charlie Crist refusing to return contributions from Republicans who feel betrayed; I can only imagine the legal challenges to the committee if they tried to use money from Republican donors to elect a non-Republican candidate and defeat a Republican candidate, even if Doug Hoffman was exponentially better than Dede Scozzafava.


Tim Burns ran a good campaign against Mark Critz, who played up his opposition to the Democratic agenda as an appeal to the blue-collar Democrats that dominate PA-12.  As I wrote yesterday, it’s going to be very difficult to win in districts where Democrats have close to a 2-1 registration advantage, as they do in PA-12, if the GOP isn’t running against an incumbent.

In a sense, Critz ran against his old boss John Murtha, who supported most if not all of the Pelosi agenda, which is why he managed to pull out the win.  Even with that, Critz lost a significant amount of the gap between the two parties, only besting Burns by eight points in a district that re-elected John Murtha in 2008 by twice as much against a tough challenge by William Russell.  Given the nature of the turnout for the Senate primary race in the same ballot, the GOP did about as much as can be expected in a difficult district used to getting its pork.

That’s the real problem: expectation management.  While it’s good to get people behind efforts such as Burns’, it’s also important to maintain realistic expectations.  In districts with 2-1 registration advantages for Democrats, Republicans will find it difficult to win, even against incumbents, although not impossible.  We can’t allow ourselves to look at outlier districts like PA-12 as bellwethers, at least not before the ballots get counted.


Van Hollen is very much mistaken about one thing, though.  The anti-Obama strategy worked in PA-12.  It’s just that Critz co-opted it well enough to stay ahead of Burns.  Unless Democrats adopt a nationwide dump-Obama theme, they shouldn’t take much comfort from the fact that Critz couldn’t win in a district with a 2-1 registration advantage without throwing their party leadership and agenda under the bus.

Update: Politico’s Glenn Thrush has a much more realistic take on the lessons from Tuesday:

Change is Barack Obama’s political calling card and the fuel that propelled his never-waste-a-crisis agenda — but change is boomeranging big time on the president in a turbulent and unpredictable 2010.

For the first time since he emerged as a national political figure six years ago, Obama finds himself on the wrong side of the change equation — the status quo side — with challengers in both parties running against him, his policies or his handpicked candidates.

Tea party conservative Rand Paul romped in the GOP Kentucky Senate primary by pledging to overturn virtually every major Obama initiative. And both Pennsylvania’s Joe Sestak, who knocked off a Democratic incumbent, and Bill Halter of Arkansas, who forced another one into a runoff, were spurned by Obama despite running on throw-the-bums-out platforms that could have been lifted from the president’s 2008 playbook. …

Even the party’s big winner Tuesday — Mark Critz, who won Rep. John Murtha’s old seat in Pennsylvania — ran against Obama’s health care overhaul.



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