The Crystal Ball moves PA-12 to “toss-up” following the passing of long-time Representative John Murtha. The vacancy sets up what will be the most hotly contested House special election since the NY-23 race last November. In a further parallel with the NY-23 special election, both party nominees will be chosen by party committees, instead of by a primary or convention. Both sides will need to tread carefully in a political environment where top-down decision making is unpalatable to many voters. While there were already Democratic and Republican candidates in the race prior to Murtha’s death, now that the race will be for an open seat many new candidates will likely throw their hats into the ring. The special election will be a test of whether Republicans can successfully build off their current national momentum and take a legitimate swing district (it was the only congressional district in the nation to vote for Kerry in 2004 and McCain in 2008) or whether Democrats will continue their impressive streak of House special election victories, now numbering nine since May 2008.
With Vern Ehlers’ retirement announcement yesterday, Republicans lost their 17th incumbent this cycle (compared to just 11 retiring Democrats). Ehlers’ MI-03 seat, however, is certainly not lost for the GOP. While McCain and Obama nearly tied in the district in 2008, McCain campaigned in Michigan only a little and 2008 was a very different year for Republicans than 2010 is shaping up to be. While 2004 was over half a decade ago, perhaps limiting the relevance of a comparison, the closer presidential race that year led to a nearly 20 point margin for Bush in the 3rd District. This district, once represented by Gerald Ford, gave Ehlers eight straight wins with over 60 percent of the vote, and in 2010 the outlook for the seat is “Safe Republican” once again.