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Tim Burns: The day after

In the end, Republican Tim Burns didn't come that close to winning the race in Pennsylvania's 12th District. Democrat Mark Critz took the seat with 53.4 percent of the vote to 44.3 percent for Burns, a margin of 12,208 votes, with the remainder of the vote going to a Libertarian Party candidate.

Coming after polls showed Burns running as high as 49 percent -- in the one district that voted for Kerry in 2004 and McCain in 2008 -- it was a shock and a disappointment to tea party activists. Robert Stacy McCain, a freelancer who made four trips into the district to shadow Burns, reported that Burns allies like Diana Irey, who ran against the late John Murtha in 2006, were even interpreting early results that showed Critz narrowly winning some Democratic precincts as proof that Burns would win.

Make no mistake -- conservatives were almost as plugged into this race as they had been in NY-23. The National Action Network, Americans for Prosperity and the National Republican Trust all got involved in the race with on-the-ground aid or advertising. Andrew Breitbart's Big Government and the Election Journal blog -- the site that gave us the infamous video of New Black Panthers lurking outside a 2008 Philadelphia polling place -- both had contributors in the crowd, looking for fraud, and the story of double-counted votes in one county briefly burned up the conservative media. Fox News endlessly promoted Burns, Sarah Palin endorsed him, and Newt Gingrich and Scott Brown stumped for him.

Conservatives thought that they could win this race, and that Critz's promises to break from the Democratic agenda on some issues would melt under pressure. Jim Geraghty sums it up:

The Burns campaign did everything they could to tie Burns to Democratic figures and laws that polled badly in the district – Pelosi, the health care bill — and it appears that in the end, voters in the district weren’t buying it.

Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity put the best face on it:

Critz dramatically under-performed in a core Democrat district held for 36 years by John Murtha, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1 in voter registration. Even with a hotly contested Senate primary driving left-wing Democratic turnout, Critz ran away from the Obama/Pelosi agenda.

The Obama/Pelosi agenda is deeply unpopular with the American people. Big-government candidates in dozens of congressional districts across the country will not have the advantage Critz had of an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Many of them have themselves cast votes for ObamaCare and cap-and-trade that will prevent them from portraying themselves as opponents of the measures, as Critz did.

Meanwhile, here's Burns's speech from election night. "I didn't get in this race to win an election," he said. "I got in this race to play my small part in helping to save this country. This isn't a loss -- this is a setback."

By David Weigel  |  May 19, 2010; 9:38 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Election  
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Next: Dreaming of a disobedient Specter

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