So will this year be anti-liberal or anti-Democrat? It’s too early to say definitively. One sign may come in the special election in PA-12. This is still a Democratic-leaning district; John McCain carried it by about 1,000 votes against Barack Obama, but it also voted for John Kerry and Al Gore. It’s probably also the most heavily Democratic district remaining in Appalachia by a fair margin, save for neighboring OH-06, and voter registration still heavily favors the Democrats. Most of the district hasn’t been represented by a Republican since the early 1930s.

If Mark Critz pulls out a win by a healthy margin, then it could be a good sign that a generalized anti-Democratic mood isn’t materializing. This doesn’t rule out the anti-liberal scenario described above by any means, since Critz is running as a fairly conservative Democrat, but it does indicate that voters in marginal districts are still willing to listen to Democratic candidates who promise to vote against health care reform and the like.

But if Critz loses or barely wins, it would be an ominous sign. Democratic turnout on Tuesday will be driven by the Democratic Senate and gubernatorial primaries occurring that day, narrowing the enthusiasm gap with Republicans in a way that won’t be likely in November. If a conservative Democrat running in a conservative Democratic district with upticket races driving turnout can’t win this year, it bodes poorly for the sixty or so Democrats running in districts that vote even more Republican at the Presidential level (I’d guess there’s eighty or ninety districts represented by Democrats that vote more Republican when you look at the state and federal levels).