RedState has endorsed Tim Burns in PA-12. I had been staying officially neutral in that race, wanting to let the voters hash it out, but that scenario isn't in the cards any more. For my money, I think Tim Burns is the way to go here.
The idea that Burns' selection for the special election would turn the district into NY-23 is pretty soundly refuted by RedState and by the ever-sage Bill Pascoe. (Always think twice before disagreeing with Pascoe -- the guy knows his stuff.) Burns is, after all, not a "Dede", but an actual conservative. From what I can tell, no less so than Russell.
Anybody who was paying attention last cycle should have found Russell's campaign wanting. Pascoe sniped at Russell in his blog post (-"But, like much of what passes for the Russell 'campaign,' this is poppycock."), as did several commenters on GrassrootsPA threads (-1-, -2-).
First, he didn't even make the primary ballot in 2008 due to lack of signatures, and had to launch a write-in effort to make the November ballot. This early stumble probably had something to do with Russell's contentious break from his first campaign manager just before the petition period. Russell then brought on Peg Luksik to run the campaign. Peg's a great lady, particularly if you need somebody to die in a ditch for the cause, but some of us would rather not die in the ditch.
Yeah, he raised a ton of cash -- most of it through the inefficient direct mail process, and much of it from outside the district. Outside money is fine, but inside money is an important psychological commitment mechanism, and pays dividends in votes later on. (This is also a danger for self-funders... pay attention, Mr. Burns.) The guy who donates $25 to a campaign is going to tell his friends and family to vote for that candidate too -- he's invested in the success of the candidate. Dollars don't vote, people do.
As far as I can tell from his FEC reports, there was no polling done by the Russell campaign in the last cycle. (Maybe it's implied in the consulting fees he reports, but polling is usually its own line item.) If I'm correct, that's just political malpractice, particularly for a candidate raking in that sort of money and trying to pull off an upset. And while Russell did manage the closest margin against Murtha any challenger has gotten since Hector was a pup, it was still a 15+ point defeat in a district that McCain won narrowly.
Can Tim Burns do better? I think there's a good chance of that. Russell's fundraising appeal was that he was a military guy running against John Murtha. That's gone now, laid to rest with Murtha, notwithstanding Russell's continued direct mail campaign against the late Congressman, with mail arriving as late as today (2/27/2010). Burns has a more well-rounded biography, one that speaks to the need for jobs in the district, and a connection to the district that precedes 2008 (when Russell moved to Johnstown).
Is this to say that Tim Burns is the greatest thing since sliced bread? No, that has yet to be seen. But what we have seen is the sort of campaign Russell runs, and I'm not impressed. To use a Rumsfeldian construction, I'll go with the "known unknown" of Burns.