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Republican Tim Burns loses in PA-12

By a surprisingly large margin -- by the time he conceded, he was down by 10 points -- first-time Republican candidate and businessman Tim Burns lost the special election Tuesday to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

Powered by the turnout from the competitive U.S. Senate primary and by a churning GOTV operation, Murtha's former district director Mark Critz will take the seat.

So what happened, after all the hype, and after polls that showed Burns in a position to win? Chalk it up to the DCCC's operation once again outperforming a ragtag conservative operation in a district where Republicans have never really been a political force.

And credit the memory of Murtha, who for all of the anger he generated among national conservatives was an absolutely beloved figure in the district. A Republican source who worked for Murtha's 2008 opponent told me that after Murtha gaffed and called his constituents "racist," he was actually down in the polls -- until he cranked up his machine, spent his money and brought Bill Clinton in to campaign for him.

"This is the one district that has real financial problems and voters who still think they're subsisting on earmarks," said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. "The 'I will go to Washington and bring money back to you' message has not done well anywhere else."

Indeed, the defeat of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) would seem to back up Norquist's argument that voters in other elections are not paying tribute to politicians who can deliver pork. Elsewhere in the state, Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) was scoring only 60 percent of the vote against a liberal challenger who attacked his "no" vote on health care. And Democrats did not reward Specter for promising to his seniority to deliver for the state.

"Obama was running around telling people he could deliver black votes in Philadelphia for Specter," Norquist sighed. "This is not Chicago. Obama is not Mayor Daley. Specter screwed up. He trusted Obama."

By David Weigel  |  May 18, 2010; 10:56 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election  
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Next: Running down the other big GOP primaries

 
 
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