PPP (4/17-18, likely voters, no trendlines):
Mark Critz (D): 41
Tim Burns (R): 44
There’s a battle going on in the special election in the 12th, and that’s a battle between the district’s natural Democratic tendencies and its very high disapproval of Barack Obama. The sample is 55% Democratic, but at the same time, Obama clocks in with a 33/57 approval, and approval of HCR is an alarming 28/59 (so maybe not surprising Critz is running ads saying he’d have voted against it).
If you’re wondering what’s up with that disparity, it mostly has to do with demographics. This is a historically Democratic district where Pittsburgh’s collar counties start to fade into the hills of Appalachia, a seat of traditional union strength among coal miners and steelworkers… but it’s also one of the most elderly districts in the nation (with the second highest percentage of seniors of any district outside Florida). Seniors have been the group most resistant to Obama (if Tea Party demographics are any indication), and in this district hard-hit by lost industry, there’s probably a lot more listening to Fox News than the voices at the union hall these days. Much has been made of how this was the only district in the nation to go from voting for Kerry in 2004 to McCain in 2008; it should also be pointed out that this was one of Hillary Clinton‘s strongest congressional districts anywhere in the primary, with most of the counties in the 12th going for her by at least 70%.
That leaves Critz and Burns, both of whom are very blank slate-ish (people feel positively about both: Burns’ favorables are 45/26 and Critz’s favorables are 41/34). Critz may yet benefit from his connections to John Murtha — despite this district’s seeming turn to the right, Murtha is still held in high esteem in the district (55/33 posthumous approval rating, and by a 49/37 margin, voters want their next Rep. to “carry on” Murtha’s legacy). With a motivation gap in the Republicans’ favor (the PPP likely electorate went for McCain by 7%, instead of his 1% margin in 2008), Critz’s best hope is to tie himself to Murtha, rather than the national party, in order to motivate Democratic base voters to get out.
McLaughlin (R) (4/15, likely voters, no trendlines):
Mark Critz (D): 40
Tim Burns (R): 39
Ordinarily, I’d trust PPP (and a MoE of 2.8%) over a Republican internal poll (and a MoE of 5.6%), and I guess I still have to, despite the GOP internal presenting a rosier scenario. The McLaughlin poll (on behalf of conservative group American Action Network, rather than the Burns campaign) points to the same underlying problem holding down Critz: they find Obama with a 31/68 approval rating.
Taking these two polls into consideration, SSP is moving its rating of this race to “Tossup” from “Lean Democrat”.