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Democrats Breathing Easier About November

By CQ Politics, CQ Politics - May 21, 2010

House Democratic leaders had a clear message for their nervous rank and file as they assessed the Pennsylvania special election results Wednesday morning: It might not be that bad.

The Democratic victory in the late Rep. John P. Murtha 's district punctured the Republican narrative that a GOP machine turbocharged by tea party energy would run roughshod over the Democratic majority this fall by running against health care, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Barack Obama , Democrats said.

"The way I'd sum it up is, "˜Not so fast,'" said freshman Rep. Gerald E. Connolly . The Virginia Democrat noted that Republicans had touted the election pitting Murtha staffer Mark Critz against Republican businessman Tim Burns as the kind they needed to win in a socially conservative district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried in the 2008 presidential election. "They are the ones who hyped it as tailor-made for them."

House Republicans acknowledged that they were disappointed with the result and conceded that the loss will require them to tweak their strategy. But even though the overall political environment would appear to favor the GOP, some House Democrats were exultant Wednesday.

"Where's the wave?" freshman Rep. Betsy Markey (Colo.) quipped.

"They started replacing the nameplates a little too early in this election cycle," said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz , a vice chairwoman at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Democrats said they feel that things have been trending in their direction in the past two months, pointing to upticks in their poll numbers, improvement in the jobs picture, a debate on financial reform that has the GOP playing defense and an early rollout of benefits under the health care law.

"Things right now are clicking," a Democratic leadership aide said.

Pelosi and DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) received a standing ovation Wednesday from the Democratic Caucus celebrating the victory.

"The Republicans did a test-drive of their November strategy in Pennsylvania 12, and it crashed," Van Hollen said. "What Mark Critz did was focus on the choices that people have on issues that they care about, especially on jobs and the economy, and demonstrated that the efforts to scare voters by talking about President Obama or Speaker Pelosi didn't work."

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