Tuesday, March 31, 2009
FHQ has been quiet on this one, which is unusual for an elections site. But special elections are nice. For elections nerds like myself, they are a welcome respite from the dark period between regularly scheduled elections. However, it is difficult to apply lessons learned from past special elections to any new one that comes along simply because the circumstances from one special election to the next (or from a general election to a special election) vary so widely.
The congressional special elections in the winter and spring of 2008 were nice in that all of them were conservative districts that broke toward the Democrats. There was something of a trend that could be parsed from that; a trend that culminated with Obama winning the White House and Democrats increasing their majorities in Congress. But it's easy to read too much into these specials. For one thing, they aren't always successfully nationalized. Often they hinge on state or local quirks. Scott Murphy is attempting to nationalize the NY-20 special by linking Jim Tedisco to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and George W. Bush. And Tedisco, for his part, is running away from national Republicans despite leaning on NRCC money. In the context of decreasing poll numbers, that's never really a good sign.
Can we extrapolate anything from those poll numbers, though? Given that there have only been six polls* conducted (three of them partisan), there isn't a whole lot of information out there. What those polls do tell us is that the trend has been toward Murphy. He has gained 8 points from poll to poll in the Siena sequence of polls and has a lead that is right around the margin of error to slightly above it.
But drawing anything anymore substantive than that from those numbers is a fool's errand. [Just look back to the Georgia Senate runoff for one such example.] Specials always come down to turnout. And with this race being so closely scrutinized on the national level, polling could either energize Republicans (in a Republican-leaning district) to head out to their nearest polling station or it could, given the current trend and the potential perception of reality, keep them away. For Democrats, it is a question of whether they are still as motivated as they were in November when Obama won the district by three points and incumbent Democratic congresswoman (turned senator), Kirsten Gillibrand, took over three-fifths of the vote.
But, does the tide wash a little further up the beach or has it already begun receding? That's what the media will be talking about tonight when the polls close at 9pm, but in special elections it is rarely that black and white. The results will do a better job of telling us whether Murphy was able to successfully nationalize this race.
*You'll have to back out to Pollster's front page to see the information on the sixth poll; the third one conducted by the DCCC.
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