Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Pennsylvania Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze the Pennsylvania Senate election, in which Republican Pat Toomey won a narrow victory over Democrat Joe Sestak in a Democratic-leaning state.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Pennsylvania’s Political Structure

This map, modified from the New York Times website, provides a very useful visualization of the election. Democratic strength in Pennsylvania is very concentrated. The black vote helps Democrats win Philadelphia (by an enormous margin) and Pittsburgh (by a lesser one). Working-class whites in places like Erie, Scranton (which is the blue dot at the top-right corner of the map), and southwest Pennsylvania also generally vote Democratic. Or they used to, at any rate. Finally, wealthy whites in the suburbs of Philadelphia and the LeHigh Valley are also voting increasingly Democratic.

Republicans, on the other hand, generally win everywhere else. They are dominant in rural, conservative central Pennsylvania and the exurbs of the Philadelphia metropolis.

A strong Democrat will win all the areas of the Democratic base and then expand to win areas of the Republican coalition. Here is President Barack Obama, for instance:

Mr. Obama doesn’t just win the Democratic base, he does quite strongly in the exurbs of Philadelphia. Notice how much better he does in the Republican stronghold of Lancaster County (the biggest red circle in the first map) than Mr. Sestak does.

A strong Republican candidate, on the other hand, will win all the areas of the Republican base and then expand to win areas of the Democratic coalition. Republican Governor Tom Corbett, for instance, actually won Allegheny County, which Pittsburgh is located in.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey didn’t do so well. He won the Republican parts of Pennsylvania, but lost the Democratic parts of Pennsylvania. In normal elections, when this happens the result looks something like this:

This is the 2004 presidential election, in which Senator John Kerry barely won Pennsylvania. He did this without making any gains into Republican Pennsylvania. The Democratic parts of Pennsylvania just barely outnumber the Republican parts of Pennsylvania, which is why Pennsylvania is a Democratic-leaning state.

In 2010, however, Mr. Toomey – riding on a strong Republican wave – was able to overwhelm the Democratic parts of Pennsylvania. Mr. Toomey was able to squeeze enough blood out of the Republican exurbs and rural counties to win.

This is a fascinating result because it doesn’t happen that often. More often the result looks like 2004. The 2010 Pennsylvania Senate election thus constitutes a model of a Republican overwhelming Philadelphia and Pittsburgh without making many gains into Democratic territory.

Comparisons

Let’s compare Mr. Toomey’s performance with Mr. Obama’s performance:

As this image shows, there was a very uniform shift rightwards from 2008 to 2010; almost every county moved Republican by double-digits.

There are some interesting subtleties here. The Republican exurbs of Philadelphia, where Mr. Obama did so well, snapped back very strongly rightwards. On the other hand, Mr. Sestak actually did better in parts of southwest Pennsylvania – a Republican-trending region which was particularly uninspired by Mr. Obama.

There is an economic dimension to this. Republican Pat Toomey ran a campaign based on themes, such as free trade, which appealed more to well-off voters. Democrat Joe Sestak, on the other hand, ran a campaign based on more populist themes. We thus see Mr. Toomey doing particularly well in the rich parts of Pennsylvania, such as the LeHigh Valley or Lancaster County. Conversely, he actually did a bit worse than Senator John McCain in the poorest parts of the state: the Appalachian southwest and the city of Philadelphia.

Conclusions

Throughout the entire campaign, Democratic candidate Joe Sestak polled considerably behind Republican Pat Toomey. It was only at the end that he started catching up, as Pennsylvania’s Democratic nature asserted itself. However, Mr. Sestak couldn’t quite make it all the way; the Republican wave in 2010 was just too strong.

All in all, these results were very “normal.” This is in the sense that both candidates built very normal coalitions; neither did well in places Republicans or Democrats don’t usually do well in. The state itself shifted fairly uniformly from 2008. No one place behaved like an outlier (unlike the case with other states).

The 2010 Senate election thus constitutes a perfect example of just what a narrow Republican victory in Pennsylvania looks like.

--Inoljt

 

Obama press conference thread

I wasn't able to watch President Obama's press conference today, but wanted to put up this thread to discuss it. The consensus on Twitter seems to be that the White House press corps didn't ask very good questions. Read the Daily Caller's liveblog and judge for yourself.

Before taking questions, Obama confirmed changes in administration policy on offshore drilling reported earlier today:

President Obama also is expected to announce a suspension of upcoming lease sales in the western Gulf of Mexico, after receiving a 30-day review of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that caused an ongoing massive leak.

The White House also will propose more rigorous oil development regulations and oversight as part of an effort to boost its response to the disaster as criticism has mounted of its handling of the worsening crisis.

Obama plans to extend the current moratorium on new deepwater drilling, put in place after the Gulf leak began, until the independent commission created to investigate the spill and to make recommendations for improvements can complete its work.

Any applications for exploratory drilling in the Arctic will be suspended until 2011, sources said. That includes suspending preliminary permits that had already been given to Shell to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska, which had been scheduled to start in less than 35 days.

A lease sale 50 miles off the coast of Virginia planned by 2012 also will be canceled.

Most of the questions related to the BP oil spill in the gulf. Obama said he was in charge and took responsibility for the damage caused and for not changing the culture at the Minerals Management Service quickly enough. He did not confirm whether that agency's head, Elizabeth Birnbaum, resigned or was fired.

Asked about our Afghanistan policy, Obama defended our military involvement. Responding to a question about Arizona's new immigration law, Obama said it's "the wrong approach" but didn't endorse any boycotts. He confirmed that the Department of Justice is reviewing the law. Fox News reporter Major Garrett asked about the allegations that the administration offered Joe Sestak a job to get him out of Pennsylvania's Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Obama said, "“There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue, which I hope will answer your questions, [...] I can assure the public that nothing improper took place, but as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue."

The floor is yours.

Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas, Hawaii election day thread

Conventional wisdom says Senator Arlen Specter needs relatively high turnout today to prevail against his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak, who has gained a lot of support in the last month and has a narrow lead in the polling average. It's been rainy today in the Philadelphia area, which isn't good for turnout, but many people may vote after work if it clears up a little. I learned from Michael McAuliff that there's a large ethnic Slovak population in the Pittsburgh area, which could give an edge to Sestak if turnout is high. I hope Sestak will win, but I don't feel confident about that at all.

Swing State Project previews the other Pennsylvania races here. The special election to fill Jack Murtha's seat in PA-12 will attract the most attention. it's the only House district in the country that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. Jeffmd posted pretty district maps and analysis here.

In Kentucky's Senate race, it looks like the Republican primary will end with a humiliating defeat for the establishment candidate, Trey Grayson. Rand Paul is the very likely winner there. In the Democratic primary, the more progressive and probably more electable Jack Conway has been gaining on Dan Mongiardo in the polls, but it looks too close to call.

In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln had to fill out a provisional ballot at her polling station, because she had requested an absentee ballot and not returned it. Oops! Unfortunately, she seems to have a comfortable lead over Bill Halter. The main question today is whether she will be kept under 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff election. Also unfortunately, Congressman John Boozman, the strongest potential Republican candidate, looks set to win the GOP primary easily.

The special election in Hawaii's first district is just a disaster. Ed Case should not have jumped into this race when most of the locals had already backed Colleen Hannabusa. As a result, those two are going to split the Democratic vote, and Republican Charles Djou will win a plurality. DavidNYC is also right; Neil Abercrombie should not have resigned from this seat, which forced the special election. He should have either held the seat while running for governor or declined to seek re-election in 2008. Let's hope we can win this seat back in November with the Democratic vote united behind one candidate.

Post any comments, predictions or tips on election results sites in this thread.

CORRECTION: Ballots for the Hawaii special election will count if they arrive in the mail by Saturday, May 22.

UPDATE: Conway leads in Kentucky with more than two-thirds of the precincts in, but his strongest areas appear to have reported already. The number crunchers at Swing State Project predict he will win narrowly, but it's too early to know.

UPDATE: Politico is continually updating results here. Conway leads by about 20,000 votes (46 percent to 41 percent) with nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting. Rand Paul easily won the Republican primary with nearly 60 percent of the votes that have been counted.

UPDATE: The Kentucky Democratic primary has been called for Jack Conway, who leads by about 5,500 votes. It's been a while since Democrats won a U.S. Senate election in Kentucky, but the Conway/Paul matchup is the most favorable one we could have hoped for.

The Pennsylvania Democratic primary has been called for Joe Sestak, who leads 53 percent to 47 percent (about 44,000 votes) with 74 percent of precincts reporting. Specker didn't get the turnout he needed in Philadelphia.

With about 21 percent of precincts reporting in Arkansas, Lincoln leads Halter 45 percent to 41 percent. If those numbers hold, the race is headed to a runoff. I have no idea what part of the state has already reported.

UPDATE: Conservative Democrat Mark Critz has beaten Tim Burns in the special election to serve out the remainder of Murtha's term in PA-12. The same two candidates won their parties' respective primaries, so will face off in November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will be very pleased to have won this one, especially given the likely outcome in HI-01.

MORNING UPDATE: With almost all the votes counted in Arkansas, Lincoln leads Halter by 44.5 percent to 42.5 percent, with D.C. Morrison taking in 13 percent. (Boozman avoided a runoff on the Republican side.) The next three weeks will be tricky for Lincoln to navigate. I also have to wonder whether the president will cut more ads for her or make a campaign visit. Toward the end of the Pennsylvania race Obama didn't do much for Arlen Specter despite earlier promises from the White House.

Critz's margin over Burns was 53 percent to 45 percent in an R+1 district where Obama's approval is only around 33 percent. I have to agree with Matt Lewis, who said last night, "Republicans should be very concerned about the margin of defeat in PA-12. NRCC has major questions to confront." I also think we'll see President Bill Clinton campaigning for Democratic candidates in a lot of rural and/or working-class districts this fall. Stumping for Critz on Sunday, Clinton told the crowd, "Maybe [Burns] should move to California, if he wants to run against Nancy Pelosi."

Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas, Hawaii election day thread

Conventional wisdom says Senator Arlen Specter needs relatively high turnout today to prevail against his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak, who has gained a lot of support in the last month and has a narrow lead in the polling average. It's been rainy today in the Philadelphia area, which isn't good for turnout, but many people may vote after work if it clears up a little. I learned from Michael McAuliff that there's a large ethnic Slovak population in the Pittsburgh area, which could give an edge to Sestak if turnout is high. I hope Sestak will win, but I don't feel confident about that at all.

Swing State Project previews the other Pennsylvania races here. The special election to fill Jack Murtha's seat in PA-12 will attract the most attention. it's the only House district in the country that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. Jeffmd posted pretty district maps and analysis here.

In Kentucky's Senate race, it looks like the Republican primary will end with a humiliating defeat for the establishment candidate, Trey Grayson. Rand Paul is the very likely winner there. In the Democratic primary, the more progressive and probably more electable Jack Conway has been gaining on Dan Mongiardo in the polls, but it looks too close to call.

In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln had to fill out a provisional ballot at her polling station, because she had requested an absentee ballot and not returned it. Oops! Unfortunately, she seems to have a comfortable lead over Bill Halter. The main question today is whether she will be kept under 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff election. Also unfortunately, Congressman John Boozman, the strongest potential Republican candidate, looks set to win the GOP primary easily.

The special election in Hawaii's first district is just a disaster. Ed Case should not have jumped into this race when most of the locals had already backed Colleen Hannabusa. As a result, those two are going to split the Democratic vote, and Republican Charles Djou will win a plurality. DavidNYC is also right; Neil Abercrombie should not have resigned from this seat, which forced the special election. He should have either held the seat while running for governor or declined to seek re-election in 2008. Let's hope we can win this seat back in November with the Democratic vote united behind one candidate.

Post any comments, predictions or tips on election results sites in this thread.

CORRECTION: Ballots for the Hawaii special election will count if they arrive in the mail by Saturday, May 22.

UPDATE: Conway leads in Kentucky with more than two-thirds of the precincts in, but his strongest areas appear to have reported already. The number crunchers at Swing State Project predict he will win narrowly, but it's too early to know.

UPDATE: Politico is continually updating results here. Conway leads by about 20,000 votes (46 percent to 41 percent) with nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting. Rand Paul easily won the Republican primary with nearly 60 percent of the votes that have been counted.

UPDATE: The Kentucky Democratic primary has been called for Jack Conway, who leads by about 5,500 votes. It's been a while since Democrats won a U.S. Senate election in Kentucky, but the Conway/Paul matchup is the most favorable one we could have hoped for.

The Pennsylvania Democratic primary has been called for Joe Sestak, who leads 53 percent to 47 percent (about 44,000 votes) with 74 percent of precincts reporting. Specker didn't get the turnout he needed in Philadelphia.

With about 21 percent of precincts reporting in Arkansas, Lincoln leads Halter 45 percent to 41 percent. If those numbers hold, the race is headed to a runoff. I have no idea what part of the state has already reported.

UPDATE: Conservative Democrat Mark Critz has beaten Tim Burns in the special election to serve out the remainder of Murtha's term in PA-12. The same two candidates won their parties' respective primaries, so will face off in November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will be very pleased to have won this one, especially given the likely outcome in HI-01.

MORNING UPDATE: With almost all the votes counted in Arkansas, Lincoln leads Halter by 44.5 percent to 42.5 percent, with D.C. Morrison taking in 13 percent. (Boozman avoided a runoff on the Republican side.) The next three weeks will be tricky for Lincoln to navigate. I also have to wonder whether the president will cut more ads for her or make a campaign visit. Toward the end of the Pennsylvania race Obama didn't do much for Arlen Specter despite earlier promises from the White House.

Critz's margin over Burns was 53 percent to 45 percent in an R+1 district where Obama's approval is only around 33 percent. I have to agree with Matt Lewis, who said last night, "Republicans should be very concerned about the margin of defeat in PA-12. NRCC has major questions to confront." I also think we'll see President Bill Clinton campaigning for Democratic candidates in a lot of rural and/or working-class districts this fall. Stumping for Critz on Sunday, Clinton told the crowd, "Maybe [Burns] should move to California, if he wants to run against Nancy Pelosi."

Progressive Senate Candidates Make Closing Arguments

They’re calling it Super Senate Tuesday. Next week on May 18, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas will all hold competitive primaries for the U.S. Senate. All three races offer the progressive movement the chance to defeat lackluster conserva-Dems. (Also Tuesday, the special election to replace the late Rep. Jack Murtha in PA-12 and the non-competitive OR-SEN primary.)

In both Kentucky and Pennsylvania, progressive candidates down roughly 20 points just a month or two ago are now in dead heats against inferior opponents. In Kentucky, state Attorney General Jack Conway is squaring off against Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo. Mongiardo is un-electable in a general, conservative (he agrees with Mitch McConnell on health care!), and possibly corrupt. Conway is none of those things, and yet a new Daily Kos poll has Mongiardo winning 39-36. SurveyUSA has it virtually tied at Mongiardo 38, Conway 37.

Fortunately, Conway has the momentum. In the past week, he’s picked up endorsements from the Lexington Herald Leader, state auditor Crit Luallen, and former Senator Wendell Ford, who is spending the final four days of the primary campaign barnstorming the state with Conway. Here’s a new video from Conway’s campaign:

Another close race is PA-SEN between retired admiral Rep. Joe Sestak and former Repub Arlen Specter. This race is also tied; Kos calls it 45-43 for Sestak, Muhlenberg tracking says 43-45 for Specter, and Quinnipiac says 44-42 for Specter. Here’s the closing argument from Sestak, a new ad comparing his voting record to Specter’s:

I’ve been very impressed with the last two ads I’ve seen from Sestak’s campaign – this and the one highlighting Specter’s party switch and close ties to Dubya and Palin. The latest news on that ad is that Specter cited a local newscast as proof that Sestak was splicing his words and taking them out of context – and yet himself spliced the newscast and took it out of context to make that point.

I used to support Arlen Specter, but then he tried to smear Admiral Sestak’s military record, making up false charges against a decorated veteran for political gain. There’s little worse in my book. Kentucky’s Daniel Mongiardo isn’t much better than Rand Paul, and we’ll be better off with even a liberal Arlen Specter, so please, support Jack Conway and Joe Sestak today. They’re both close, but need a final push – especially in Sestak’s case, where a tie favors Specter’s organizational advantage.

Also happening, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is still well behind incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. I still think she’ll get 50% of the vote, but he is catching up, so maybe show him some love too and we can knock out several conservative obstructionists at once.

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