Top GOP Official: Pennsylvania House Race Was ‘Mistake on Our Investment’ in Polling, Turnout

By Matt Loffman

May 19, 2010 2:46pm

ABC News' Rick Klein reports: National Republicans pumped more than $1 million into the race for the late Rep. John Murtha's seat in western Pennsylvania – in the hopes of sending a message about the GOP's ability to compete in the kinds of districts they'll need to take back the majority. What they got for their money was a big disappointment: An eight-point loss yesterday that’s sending Democrat Mark Critz to Congress, despite Republican confidence going into the special election. On ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line” today, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who’s in charge of candidate recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the loss by Republican Tim Burns is prompting a reexamination by GOP leaders about how they approach races, plus an “audit” of what went wrong. “That's a couple different things we're going to have to analyze, because why does the polling show that we were close the whole time and then it not be close on election night?” said McCarthy, R-Calif. “That’s a mistake on our part — that's a mistake on our investment that we have to make a correction to.” McCarthy said special circumstances contributed to Critz’s victory. Critz emphasized his independence from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and national Democrats – something few incumbents will be able to do successfully, he said. And Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., scheduled the special election on the same day as a heated Democratic Senate primary, driving up Democratic turnout, McCarthy said. “Independents in this race normally cannot vote in a primary, and they're confused that this was a general [and] couldn't turn out,” he said. “But we have to build the base; we have to have turn out. That's where we did make our mistake: We had to have greater turnout in this process, and we just didn't get it. But the Democrats had the intensity on other races that helped build that turn out.” McCarthy predicted victory in the next special election, in a Democratic-leaning district in Hawaii where two Democrats are likely to split the vote and hand the race to the Republican. He also said that tea party energy is going to help Republicans, even when – as in one race in Kentucky – conservative activists elect a candidate other than the one favored by the GOP establishment. “That's very helpful. I mean look, this is an anti-incumbent year,” McCarthy said. “We believe in the free market of ideas, and you've got to be strong going throughout…  I think for perspective — this just does not bode well for Democrats; they are the majority of the incumbency here.” As for the race in Pennsylvania, McCarthy said: “We'll go back and we'll audit to see what's going forward. … There’s places we can improve with turnout, but I think you'll see a stronger NRCC coming out of this. The one thing that changed in the NRCC is we learn from our mistakes.” Republicans, he said, need to do more to define what they’d like to do if they take back control of Congress: “We have to be for something. We have to lay out our agenda, we have to show a better direction for America and a more prosperous one. And that's probably where we need to improve.” Watch the full interview with Rep. Kevin McCarthy HERE. For our “Post Politics” segment, we checked in with Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post to recap all of yesterday’s big races – including Sen. Arlen Specter’s primary loss, and Rand Paul’s victory for the tea party in Kentucky. Watch the segment with Karen Tumulty HERE.

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