In the only House race that really mattered to both parties—the special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha in Pennsylvania’s 12th District—Republicans failed spectacularly, losing on a level playing field where, in this favorable environment, they should have run roughshod over the opposition.

Given the resources the GOP poured into the effort to capture the seat and the decisiveness of the defeat—as it turned out, it wasn’t really that close—the outcome casts serious doubt on the idea that the Democratic House majority is in jeopardy and offers comfort to a Democratic Party that is desperately in search of a glimmer of hope.

The district itself couldn’t have been more primed for a Republican victory. According to one recent poll, President Barack Obama’s approval rating in the 12th was a dismal 35 percent, compared to 55 percent who disapproved. His health care plan was equally unpopular—just 30 percent of those polled supported it, while 58 percent were in opposition.