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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Picking over the wreckage

Posted By on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 at 2:41 AM

Well, there's no point putting this off. Let's take a first quick -- and somewhat fatigued -- look at what went wrong in tonight's Senate race, where Joe Sestak lost to Pat Toomey.

It's pretty clear that the Democrats overhyped earlier claims of massive turnout. Just to take one example, earlier today I passed along claims that there was a surge in voting among college students at the University of Pittsburgh. It is true that additional voting machines were ordered late in the day for the Pitt campus. But in the final analysis, turnout at Posvar Hall  -- which handles students in Litchfield Towers -- was slightly below totals in 2006. 

Four years ago, when Bob Casey beat Rick Santorum, nearly 750 votes were cast in Ward 4, District 8. Yesterday, only 726 votes were cast. This election's numbers are unofficial, of course, but the point remains: Turnout among young voters, who Democrats hoped would follow up on their support for Obama, was flat.

And students didn't just fail to make an impact in Oakland. A week ago, the irreplaceable Chris Briem noted a spike in new voter registration in Centre County, which includes State College. That too lead some to hope there might be a spike in voter participation among students. 

If so, it didn't help Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak. In unofficial results, Sestak got 21,602 votes from Centre County. In 2006, meanwhile, Casey got nearly 24,600

That was the pattern for Sestak all across the state. I can't find one county where he improved on Casey's performance. Which seems like such an obvious factor that I wouldn't even mention it ... except for the fact that I spent most of my evening at the Sestak gathering over on the North Side. And as the evening wore on, there was some grumbling about Philadelphia letting us down. After all, the conventional wisdom was that this election was goign to be "all about Philadelphia."

But actually, Philly is one of the few counties where the Democrats' Senate candidate didn't lose much ground between 2006 and 2010. Sestak earned 84 percent of the vote there -- the same portion that Casey got four years ago. True, he netted 7,000 fewer votes in Philly. But compare that to Allegheny County, where Sestak came up nearly 70,000 votes short of Casey's 2006 total. Had Sestak just repeated Casey's 2006 performance in Allegheny County, that would almost have been enough to tie the entire election up.

So while it's tempting to blame Philadelphia for all our problems -- starting with Ed Rendell -- it was Democratic shortcomings everywhere else that really hurt  Sestak. In the weeks leading up to the election, Democrats told me that some of my more cyncial blog posts underestimated Democratic "get out the vote" efforts. And they tried to tout those efforts right up through this evening. But at this point, I see little evidence that they had anything to boast about.

(ADDED: Minutes after posting this, it occurred to me it was unfair. Considering everything the Democrats were up against this year, and considering the much larger margin of defeat in the governor's race, it was a hell of an accomplishment just keeping Sestak so close.)

Of course, it's possible I'm missing something really obvious: I'm pretty fried. And I don't mean to slight the efforts of all those folks who worked so hard to turn out voters. Earlier on Election Day, Toomey told Politico that he planned to make his victory speech at 10 p.m. -- had it not been for Democratic field workers, he would have gotten that wish.

In any case, there are plenty of other people to blame for this year's election debacle. Including me, I think. And come to that, more needs to be said about that Post-Gazette endorsement of Tom Corbett. But for now, we'd probably all be better off if I got some sleep.

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