The New York special election: Will Democrats panic?

at 06:30 AM ET, 09/14/2011

In the wake of Rep.-elect Bob Turner’s (R) upset victory in the special election in New York’s 9th district on Tuesday night, the prevailing question among Democrats will almost certainly be: Is it time to push the panic button?


(Rep.-elect Bob Turner (R) celebrates his win in New York’s 9th district special election Tuesday night.)
There’s little debate that the seat that will now occupied by Turner was one Democrats could have and should have won. It had been in Democratic hands for more than eight decades and was carried by President Obama by 11 points in 2008. And Democrats had a three-to-one registration advantage in the district.

Why they didn’t win is a matter of debate, but expect the after-action analysis to focus on the fact that Republicans (and former Democratic New York City mayor Ed Koch, who endorsed Turner) cast the race as a referendum on Obama.

That perception, which national Democratic leaders will do everything they can to beat back today, is a dangerous one for already-skittish Democrats concerned about how the still-staggering economy and the president’s unpopularity will impact them next fall.

It’s compounded by the fact that Democrats came nowhere close to winning another House special election in Nevada on Tuesday. At one point party strategists had seen a path to victory there too.

Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle captured what could wind up as the prevailing sentiment among members during a fundraiser Monday night in Washington.

According to an attendee, Doyle warned that if Democrats lost the New York special election, all members of Congress “could get sent home.”

That level of fretfulness could severely complicate efforts by Democratic congressional leaders and the White House to unify the party behind Obama’s jobs bill or any other piece of even semi-controversial legislation that comes before the House and Senate between now and November 2012.

As we noted yesterday, politicians are, at root, survivors. And they look out for themselves and their political careers, first and foremost.

(This is not a trait unique to Democrats. Remember that in the wake of Republicans’ special election loss in New York’s 26th district earlier this year, GOP strategists groused that the budget plan proposed by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan could cost them the House in 2012.)

What happens in the next few days will be critical to whether Democrats can weather — see what we did there — the storm caused by Turner’s victory.

In an ideal world for the party, its members buy what the party leadership is selling: that this election was as much about local issues as national ones and that there are few political lessons to be extrapolated from it.

But in politics, context matters. With polling suggesting the American people are fed up — Rick Perry homage! — with Congress and the direction of the country generally, the Turner victory could well serve as a symbolic tipping point for some members who have held their tongue to date (at least in public) about the party.

Dissension in the ranks is never a good thing — in politics or anywhere else. And that could be what Democrats are headed for over the next few days or even weeks.

Pennsylvania GOP seeks to split up electoral votes: Republicans in Pennsylvania are considering a plan to become only the third state to distribute its Electoral College votes proportionally.

Every state except Maine and Nebraska currently follows the winner-take-all format, so the shift would be significant — especially given the size of the Keystone State.

The GOP hasn’t won Pennsylvania in a presidential election since 1988, but it controls 12 of the state’s 19 congressional districts and may be able to cement that edge in the coming round of redistricting, which the GOP controls. The cumulative effect, in other words, could give the GOP 12 electoral votes that it wouldn’t otherwise get.

Of course, it would also mean that if the GOP can pull an upset in Pennsylvania — and President Obama’s numbers aren’t good there — it wouldn’t reap the full benefits of the winner-take-all format.

Redistricting moves forward in Washington, Ohio, Idaho: Washington state’s redistricting commission released four draft redistricting plans Tuesday, with each of them putting the state’s new 10th district in a different spot.

The commission is comprised of four members — two from each major party — and each member submitted a plan for the congressional map. Not surprisingly, the Democratic plans create a new safe Democratic district, while the GOP plan created a competitive district (for more detail, see here).

As we reported Tuesday, the Ohio GOP’s creative-but-effective map has also been released. And Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who had threatened to run in the new district in Washington state (not a typo), sounded optimistic about running again in Cleveland, even as he was drawn into the same district as Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). “I have been praying that I could continue to serve my Cleveland-area constituency, and it looks like I have a chance,” Kucinich said. “That is all I could have hoped for.”

Also this week, Idaho’s commission was forced to start over. And there are more details of who is running where under California’s overhauled congressional map.

RNC beat DNC in August: The Republican National Committee turned the tables on the Democratic National Committee in August, outraising it $8.2 million to $5.5 million.

The numbers prove how much the DNC has relied on President Obama for its fundraising this year. With Obama focusing on the debt limit deal in August, his joint fundraising committee wasn’t able to flood the DNC’s coffers as it did the previous three months.

Fixbits:

Rick Perry won’t be begging for endorsements from members of Congress.

Rep. Michele Bachmann backs off her claim that the HPV vaccine Perry mandated causes mental disabilities.

Elizabeth Warren’s (D) announcement video in the race to face Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

Wealthy businessman and one-time 2010 congressional candidate Steve Welch (R) will challenge Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

The Obama campaign launches a Web site to fight misinformation.

For the record, former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) did vote for David Weprin.

Freshman Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), who moved into his district during his 2010 campaign, is moving back outside his district, citing his inability to sell his house.

A staffer for former Utah governor Jon Huntsman said Monday’s debate made her “sick and sad” because of the conduct of the candidates and the audience. Not, interestingly, because of her boss’s jokes.

West Virginia GOP governor candidate Bill Maloney has hired the former RNC staffer who got in trouble for taking donors to a bondage-themed nightclub using committee funds.

Must-reads:

Romney’s aggressive approach here to stay” — Steve Peoples, AP

Top Republicans gird for a long, bitter Perry-Romney duel” — Philip Rucker and Perry Bacon Jr., Washington Post

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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