Four Myths from the Pennsylvania Primary

After Pennsylvanians and our good friends in Kentucky, Oregon, and Arkansas had gone to their precincts, fulfilled their civic duty, and retired to the comfort of their living rooms last Tuesday, they were treated to a bunch of commentators from New York and Washington explaining to them why they voted the way they did. (The one exception was Chris Matthews, whom, despite my disgust for him, I must at least give credit for setting up shop in Philadelphia that night.) Commentators divorced from the people, who have little time to look at any data except the simple tallies, spun their first-run analyses, which are soon retold on other media outlets. These myths become a self-perpetuating narrative. I’m here with the real statistics, broken down, ready to dispel any myths that the mainstream media uses to advance a pro-Democrat narrative.

Myth #1: Democrats were much more motivated than Republicans.

A lot of Republicans want to believe this one, because it helps lessen the sting of losing PA-12. As has been reported, that district is gerrymandered to produce a 2-to-1 Democratic registration advantage. If you look at the primary votes in that district, you discover that, indeed, Democrats showed up to the polls at a rate of almost two for every registered Republican. 82,951 Democrats voted in the PA-12 Congressional Primary versus 45,969 who voted in the Republican Congressional Primary. When those are your party affiliation turnout numbers, there is not much chance of a flip.

You might also notice that more Democrats voted in the primary than the total who voted for Critz in the special election (70,615). Burns, on the other hand, gained nearly 15,000 more votes than the total number of Republicans, presumably from dissatisfied Democrats and Independents. Except for the final result, I cannot see how Republicans could be disappointed by this showing, even in spite of the more favorable polling our side received in the weeks leading up the Special Election.

Besides PA-12, we need to look statewide to see just how motivated Democrats really are. Remember, the Democrats had competitive races for Governor and Senate; while the Republicans in those races featured major names being challenged by poorly funded and little-known insurgents. So, what was the Democratic Party turnout for this exciting, bellwether race between Sestak and Specter? …


No, you are not misreading that. Less than one in four Pennsylvania Democrats took their civic duty seriously enough to cast a ballot for either Joe Sestak or Arlen Specter.

Well, you say, Republicans must’ve done much more poorly, since Toomey barely bothered to run ads. Wrong! 26.3% of Republicans went to the polls. While that’s nothing to be particularly proud of, it is still 2.3% better turnout than Democrats.

So, to clarify, Republicans had a higher turnout by percentage than Democrats, despite having no competitive race for Senate and barely a race for Governor. I’d say Republicans are still pretty amped up!

Oh, and in Sestak’s home county, more Republicans voted in the primary than Democrats.

Myth #2: Arlen Specter was a victim of a statewide anti-incumbent fervor.

The truth is Arlen Specter was almost the only incumbent up for reelection in Pennsylvania to go down in the primary. Only one incumbent candidate for the Pennsylvania General Assembly fell on primary night. Among incumbents who received their party’s nomination were John Perzel (R) and Bill DeWeese (D), two leaders in their caucuses currently facing felony charges in connection with Tom Corbett’s Bonusgate investigation. If there was an anti-incumbent fervor, these two would not have survived.

Arlen Specter lost because Democrats think he is a Republican. He would have lost a Republican primary because conservatives think he is a liberal. If you combine those two, you get “liberal Republican”, an awful creature that has no place in government. To a Democrat voter, your political affiliation is defined not by your registration, nor by your positions, but on whether you support their media-created heroes and whether you oppose their media-created villains. Specter supported George W. Bush and Sam Alito, while calling out Anita Hill. His positions on issues friendly to liberals did not matter.

The current Democrat heroes in Pennsylvania, however, did support Arlen Specter, in spite of his history. Obama and Biden appeared in ads for Specter, and both Rendell and Casey supported the incumbent as well. Remember, though, Democrats do not like being preached to…they just like preaching. Even the support of the great O could not save Specter’s hide.

In this map, orange represents a county that Arlen Specter won, and blue represents a county that Sestak won. I apologize in advance for all the ads that come with opening the link; I do not seem to have permission to upload files on RedState.

Arlen Specter won exactly three counties in Pennsylvania. As expected, he cleaned up in his home of Philadelphia. He also won Dauphin County, home of Harrisburg. The state capitol is well known as an establishment center. The other county is Lackawanna County, home of the Caseys and the former home of Biden. So, Specter was only able to win in places where the establishment was particularly popular. In the vastness that is the rest of Pennsylvania, voters reacted against being told that Specter was an ally of the Democrats. Anti-establishment and anti-incumbent are not the same thing. Even registered Democrats are smart enough to look at a candidate’s history to make a decision.

Myth #3: Sestak is the favorite against Toomey.

Let’s return to those low turnout numbers. A mere 13.1% of Democrats actually cast a vote for Joe Sestak. Put another way, Sestak still has to convince 86.9% of his own party to vote for him in November, before he even starts to court Independents. Toomey, on the other hand, starts his campaign with 21.4% of his own party having already cast a ballot for him.

Sestak received a predictable bump in the polls following his victory, presumably making up some of that 86.9% of Democrats who did not vote for him on Tuesday. This trend will subside in the next few days. Sestak has been all over the airwaves for the past months. However, Sestak is simply too far to the left for Pennsylvanians.

While Republicans know Pat Toomey well, outside of the district he represented, Independents and Democrats do not know all that much about him. Toomey has run a few positive ads in the past few days; it will be important to get those out en masse before Sestak comes at him with negative ads. Toomey lags behind Sestak in name recognition. Toomey has a likeable personality that will play well in Pennsylvania if he can introduce himself positively.

Democrat strategists seem to think that voters are stupid and do not know anything beyond “Wall Street = bad”. One has to listen to Pat Toomey for only a few minutes to determine that he is not a shill for the banking industry. The goal is to get those ‘few minutes’ down to thirty seconds. Toomey opposed TARP and opposes bailouts. It does not take 30 seconds to explain that Sestak voted for TARP. Every Pennsylvanian will be able to see the disconnection between what Sestak accuses Toomey of and what Sestak himself has voted for.

Did I mention Sestak has a 100% score from the Brady Campaign and an F grade from the NRA? That’s not going to play well in Pennsylvania, either.  Gil Spencer of the Delaware County Times (Sestak’s local newspaper), wrote a great editorial on how weak of a candidate Sestak is in a statewide election.  The national media and Pennsylvania media have very different ideas on how this race will shape out.  At the moment, I trust the locals.  I expect Toomey to take the lead within a month’s time as he improves his name recognition.

As an aside, I expect this race to be the most fundamentally interesting race in the nation. You have two genuinely likeable men who are polar opposites on policies. I would love to see their debates make national cable television, and not just because I’m a big Pat Toomey fan. They would provide an educational lesson in modern liberalism and conservatism to Americans.


Myth #4: Sam Rohrer’s poor showing means the Tea Party is weaker than initially thought.

This myth is a bit more inside baseball and was not, to my knowledge, spread nationally, since Rand Paul’s win in Kentucky unequivocally states the opposite. However, this myth is gaining traction instate, and we should put an end to it quickly.

I am not going to completely disagree with this myth, though. While the Tea Party is and will continue to be a force in elections, I think the local Tea Parties in Pennsylvania overestimated their influence by a good bit. While small government conservative groups tend not to openly endorse candidates, it was rather clear that Sam Rohrer was the groups’ choice for Governor.

Rohrer, of course, only received 31.3% of the vote against Tom Corbett. There was really no way for Republicans to prevent a myth in this race. If Rohrer would have pulled in 40%+ of the vote, a new myth about Tom Corbett not being a strong candidate would have emerged. So, let’s look at the number to determine why Rohrer did not get even one in three votes running as the more conservative candidate.

In this map, Rohrer won dark red counties and pulled in 40% in bright red counties. In yellow counties, Corbett won with at least 60% of the vote.

Rohrer was a regional candidate. Without funding and name recognition, he was only able to penetrate the media market he resided in and the edges of the Philadelphia and Scranton media markets. Out in Western Pennsylvania, Rohrer was clobbered, receiving less than 15% of the vote in some counties. I went to Rohrer’s website to look at his campaign schedule. While the Rohrer campaign visited all 67 counties, because that’s pretty much a requirement in Pennsylvania politics, most days of his campaign were clearly focused on the Philadelphia, Allentown, and Harrisburg media areas. Where he was present, he did well, but his campaign was virtually inexistent in Western Pennsylvania.

There are probably cultural reasons for more active Tea Party organizations in South Central Pennsylvania, and I would not say Rohrer’s poor showing should reflect on the Tea Party. The Tea Parties knew in supporting Rohrer they were supporting a candidate with little chance of winning and little funding. Since this is a state election, it does not reflect on the national Tea Party at all. If anything, the result is evidence of the continued power of the PA Republican Party in being able to get their chosen candidate elected, even if Corbett is not the most popular guy with Republicans in the General Assembly and the grassroots.

But the establishment Republicans may be losing their grip. While the candidates for legislative and executive offices the Tea Parties and 912 organizations supported may have failed, they scored some major victories in getting candidates elected to the state Republican Committee.

There are other myths out there, but some of them might be true:

  • Dan Onorato will pose a formidable challenge to Tom Corbett.
  • Republicans should not spend too much money on PA-12 in November.
  • No one in Philadelphia is going to vote during the World Series.

As far as I’m concerned, those myths are speculation, but they might be on target. But a good part of the narrative developed by the media is in direct contrast to what occurred at the polls and in the campaign.