Last night probably could not have gone better for Democrats, even though the party establishment is shedding crocodile tears over Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln (the latter of whom is in serious trouble, as Lt. Gov. Bill Halter outperformed polls and has three more weeks to close the deal). Even in Kentucky, Democrats probably got the more exciting (not to mention the more progressive) candidate in Jack Conway, and also get to face the shall-we-say eccentric Rand Paul. Of course the Republican is still favored, but Kentucky is now probably a battleground.
Even more interesting, I think, is the fact that Democrats extended their streak in House special elections by holding on to the Pennsylvania 12th, John Murtha’s old seat. That makes ten straight special elections to fill House seats in which Democrats have either retained or stolen a seat. You have to go back to May 2008, when Steve Scalise replaced Bobby Jindal, to find a Republican victory. (Of course, Scott Brown won a special election in January. But the GOP probably has more realistic hopes of flipping the House in November if there is a genuine “wave” a la 1994.)
LA-6: Don Cazayoux (D) replaces Richard Baker (R), May 2008 (though Cazayoux lost the general election in November)
MS-1: Travis Childers (D) replaces Roger Wicker (R), May 2008
MD-4: Donna Edwards (D) replaces Albert Wynn (D), June 2008
OH-11: Marcia Fudge (D) replaces Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D), November 2008
NY-20: Scott Murphy (D) replaces Kirsten Gillibrand (D), March 2009
IL-5: Mike Quigley (D) replaces Rahm Emanuel (D), April 2009
CA-32: Judy Chu (D) replaces Hilda Solis (D), July 2009
CA-10: John Garamendi (D) replaces Ellen Tauscher (D), November 2009
NY-23: Bill Owens (D) replaces John McHugh (R), November 2009
PA-12: Mark Critz (D) replaces John Murtha (D), May 2010
I’ve italicized the elections that were hyped in the media and by national Republicans as referenda on President Obama and as potential warning signs of an impending Republican wave. Democrats won all of those elections, and yet the conventional wisdom continues to be that Republicans have a solid chance to take back the House in November.
Granted, Scott Murphy won by a hair, but the New York 20th is a conservative district that only became Democratic in 2006. Bill Owens’s victory in the longtime-Republican 23rd district should have challenged the desired Republican takeaway from the elections in Virginia and New Jersey, which was that they were harbingers of the midterm cycle rather than local elections based on local politicians and issues. If any race last November was truly nationalized, it was Owens’s.
So now why is it that everyone supposes that Republicans are experiencing a “wave” in their favor? Seats like the PA-12 are the kind that you win when there’s a wave: long-held by a Democrat but a swing district (went for Kerry, but also for McCain). I’m getting mighty sick of hearing pundits talk about the “anti-incumbent” mood without explaining that it’s not necessarily an anti-Democrat mood.
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