Why did the GOP lose PA-12? 

So, the polls were off in PA-12, and Democrat Mark Critz won by 9 points. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into victory for Critz in November or mean that Democrats nationwide can breathe a sigh of relief.

The only competitive statewide primary Tuesday was on the Democratic side, and that helped boost Democratic turnout (Dems outnumbered Republicans 2 to 1 at the polls in PA-12). That advantage will be gone in the fall. Critz ran as a conservative Democrat–his ads portrayed him as a pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, anti-cap & trade candidate, who would have voted against Obamacare. That’s an advantage many Democratic incumbents in GOP-leaning districts won’t have in November. Their voting records will tell a different story.

And for that matter, PA-12 didn’t lean that much in the GOP’s favor. Yes, as Democrats and MSNBC reporters are enthusiastically pointing out, it is the only district that flipped from voting for John Kerry in ‘04 to John McCain in ‘08. But McCain only carried it by 900 votes. And that was after Obama had personally insulted western Pennsylvanians as bitter xenophobes who cling to their guns and God because of economic alienation. Fifty-eight percent of voters in the district were still willing to vote for Democrat John Murtha in 2008.

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As Sean Trende has pointed out, Republicans
don't need to win districts like PA-12 to win back the House
:
"there are over sixty districts represented by Democrats with better
Republican performances than PA-12. The Republicans' path to 218 seats
doesn't necessarily run through this district – in fact, I don't think
their path to a 1994-esque 230 seats necessarily runs through this
district."

With all of that said, of course it would have been much better news
for Republicans if they had pulled off a victory. Republicans probably
made a few mistakes that made it easier for Critz to win. First of all,
they were much more divided over their nominee than the Democrats were.
Burns won the GOP primary on Tuesday for the November election 57% to
43%, while Critz won his primary 72% to 20%. (Burns faced '08 candidate
Bill Russell, an Iraq war vet.)

Furthermore, PA-12 is a socially conservative district that loved
John Murtha for bringing home the bacon, and the GOP nominated a
millionaire businessman who was attacked (unfairly
but effectively)
for saying kind words about the Fair Tax. When Critz declared at one
debate
that he and Burns shared the same pro-life position, Burns
didn't challenge Critz and missed an opportunity to draw a contrast:
Obamacare funds abortion, and Critz is against repealing Obamacare.
Burns may have spent too much time portraying
himself
as a fiscal conservative, and not enough time attacking
Critz on social issues.

Still, Burns is a solid candidate and he shouldn't be written off in
November. And it would be an even bigger mistake to write off a
potential GOP House takeover based solely on Tuesday's special election
in Pennsylvania.
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