Most of us (myself included) fixated on the NY-9 House seat held by Anthony Weiner (and Charles Schumer before him and Geraldine Ferraro before him) that had been in Democrat hands since 1923 as a portent to coming disaster for Democrats in 2012.
But many political analysts actually said the Nevada race won in a landslide by the Republican is an even more ominous portent. Consider that John McCain won that district by just 88 votes in 2008; three years later, it was won by a Republican by nearly 30,000 votes. And that district is not Jewish. And Ed Koch wasn’t influencing that race. And the Democrat candidate in Nevada was by all accounts an excellent candidate who played the Democrat “blame Republicans” game to a “T.”
The writer of the following article clearly has a fondness for Democrats (the fact that he writes in the New York Times alone is a pretty good tip-off). But he presents some analysis that leads to worry for Democrats:
September 14, 2011, 1:33 am
For Democrats, It’s 2010 All Over Again
By NATE SILVER
The outcome of any individual election to the United States House, even in a highly partisan era where Congressional elections have a relatively strong correlation with presidential voting and national trends, is going to be determined based on a combination of local and national factors. One congressional district’s outcome may diverge significantly from another’s – even if they seem similar on the surface — based on the quality of the candidates, the demographics of the region and issues highly pertinent to the district but not to the nation at large. Any one race may or may not be representative.
There are good reasons to think that local issues may have loomed especially large in New York’s 9th Congressional District, where the Republican Bob Turner won on Tuesday. President Obama had significantly underperformed his Democratic predecessors in the district in 2008, and the large split in voting between the Brooklyn and Queens portions of the district — the Brooklyn parts are more heavily Jewish — implies that Israel-related issues may have played a role.
There were other local factors as well: influential endorsements for Mr. Turner by Democratic leaders like former Mayor Ed Koch and the Assemblyman Dov Hikind, and local rabbis; the close timing of the election with the Sept. 11 anniversary; the fact that the district had been vacated by a Democrat, Anthony Weiner, in a scandal; and perhaps gay marriage in a district that is economically liberal but fairly religious, with pockets of social conservatism.
Still, even if those issues played a role, even if they swung the result, the Democrat David Weprin would likely have performed better had the national environment been stronger for his party.
And when paired with the results in Nevada’s Second Congressional District, where the Democrat Kate Marshall was blown out on Tuesday, the special election scorecard is starting to look pretty ominous for Democrats.
One crude way to forecast the results you might expect to see out of a House race is through its Partisan Voting Index, or P.V.I., a measure of how the district voted relative to others in the past two presidential elections.
The Nevada Second, for instance, has a P.V.I. of Republican plus-5, meaning that the Republican candidate would be expected to perform 5 points better there than a Republican might nationally. Since a vote for the Republican is (usually) a vote against the Democrat, you need to double that number to project the margin of victory. In this case, that would imply a Republican win by 10 points given average candidates and a neutral overall political environment.
The Republican Mark Amodei, however, leads by 22 points as of this writing, an easy victory, meaning that he overperformed the P.V.I. by 12 points.
Meanwhile, Mr. Turner’s winning margin in the New York district, 8 percentage points as of this writing, represents a 18-point G.O.P. swing from the P.V.I.-projected results.
These numbers contrast with a May special election in New York’s upstate 26th Congressional District, a Republican-leaning seat where the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, won. Her 5-point victory margin represented a 17-point Democratic swing from what would be expected from the district under average circumstances.
Ms. Hochul’s victory should not be forgotten about, as it’s a sign of how volatile the results in individual elections can be, and how rapidly the political climate can shift. That election was held at a time when Mr. Obama’s standing was relatively strong in national polls, following the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
Even if you include it, however — as well as a July special election in California, where Democrats won but by an underwhelming margin — Republicans have overperformed the P.V.I. baseline by an average of 7 percentage points across the four races. That squares with what we saw in 2010, when Republicans won the popular vote for the House by an aggregate of 7 percentage points.
In other words, the four special elections, taken as a whole, suggest that Democrats may still be locked in a 2010-type political environment. Democrats might not lose many more seats in the House if that were the case, since most of their vulnerable targets have already been picked off, but it would limit their potential for any gains. And it could produce dire results for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, where they have twice as many seats up for re-election.
It’s certainly possible to read too much into special elections to the House. Over the long run, they have had a statistically significant correlation to the outcome of the next general election. But the relationship is weak and frequently runs in the wrong direction, as it did in 2010.
Moreover, special elections aren’t a good barometer of the degree of anti-incumbent sentiment, since by definition they don’t feature incumbents on the ballot.
So these are just four waves in an ocean of data. Among other signs, the outcome in the recall elections in Wisconsin last month — where Democrats failed to flip the state senate, but picked off two Republican incumbents in six attempts — are a bit more favorable for Democrats. So are the results of generic ballot polls, which show a roughly tied race for the U.S. House. There are also a broad variety of indicators showing extreme dissatisfaction with the Congress, which could harm Democrats in the Senate but help them in the House.
Nevertheless, these are waves that portend trouble.
At the very minimum, they imply a reduction in the odds that after three consecutive “wave” elections, 2012 will show a tidal shift back toward Democrats.
The Democrat combination of swinging wildly between liberal teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing and simultaneously denying that it has anything to do with Obama is very interesting to watch. It’s rather like watching someone with a serious bi-polar disorder going from hyper-positive to delusional and back.
Meanwhile, Obama’s “hope and change” means no jobs, record mortgage foreclosures, dismal consumer confidence and spending and pretty much zero positive momentum. And that’s the good news.