Democrats: Special election losses have no significance for 2012

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Democrats brushed off special elections losses in Nevada and New York in the early hours of Wednesday morning, calling one loss expected in a “ruby red state,” and the second a function of “unusual circumstances.”

In a press call with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the two said that the losses were not the harbinger of bad news for Democrats in 2012 that Republicans have suggested they are.

“As far as the special elections yesterday, there are a lot of pundits out there looking for a prediction for results in 2012,” said Wasserman Schultz. “If you’re looking for predictions like that,” she continued, people should be looking at how Obama does in the polls in head-to-head match ups with Republican opponents.

A Public Policy Polling poll released Tuesday found Obama leading Rick Perry by 11 points, and Mitt Romney by 4.

“I’ve never seen the 9th CD referred to as a bellwether” of what the loss in New York portended for future politics, said Schumer, who used to represent the 9th District before it was altered slightly in re-districting. He called it “among the most conservative districts in NYC” and pointed to the fact that though Obama won the district with 55 percent of the vote, that was a much smaller majority than the one with which he won New York City, and most of the other neighboring districts. He also pointed out that Obama lost the Brooklyn part of the district in 2008, even though he ultimately won the district as a whole.

Schumer also noted that there is a high population of Orthodox Jews and Eastern European immigrants in the district, two groups that are usually fairly conservative.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel had a similar take: “Special Elections are always difficult — they are low turnout, high intensity races,” he said.

“The results in NY-09 are not reflective of what will happen in November 2012 when Democratic challengers run against Republican incumbents who voted to end Medicare and cut Social Security while protecting tax loopholes for big corporations and the ultra wealthy,” he added.

Wasserman Schultz dismissed the analysis that the Republican win in the heavily Jewish district was the beginning of a trend of how Jewish voters would cast their ballots in 2012. “I’m confident that the president, all over the country, will receive the overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote,” she said.

She touted Obama’s “strong record on Israel,” which Republicans contend is the very reason why Republican Bob Turner won in New York because they say Obama’s policies toward Israel are not as friendly as they should be.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said early Wednesday morning that with the loss in the Nevada race, “Democrats just saw their 2012 playbook fall apart,” but Wasserman Schultz insisted that that was not the case. Sessions was referring to the issue of Medicare, which became a focal point in a special election in Western New York in May, allowing the Democratic candidate to win a surprise victory in a Republican district. In Nevada, however, attempts by the Democratic candidate to use the issue were not as effective.

Wasserman Schultz said the explanation for that was simple: the Republican in the New York race had openly endorsed Paul Ryan’s budget plan, while the Republican in the Nevada race had not.

She added the Nevada race results were expected.

“It was not a district that we ever expected to win,” she said, noting that even in 2008, when Democrats were voted in in a wave election, that seat went Republican. It was a district that she said they “didn’t play in, and weren’t really expecting to play in.”

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight argued that as far as lessons to draw from the election, the reality split the difference between Republican and Democrat versions.

“There are good reasons to think that local issues may have loomed especially large in New York’s 9th Congressional District … 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,” Silver wrote.

He also noted that “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.”

However, he pointed out, “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.”

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