Unfortunately, the debate around PA-12 seems to center around the failure of “nationalizing” the election. This failure occurred in part because Mark Critz was able to portray himself as a moderate on issues like guns, life, and health care, and in part because Critz was able to convince voters that he would model his economic plan after the late John Murtha’s porky earmarks.
In light of the seeming failure of a 1994-esque nationalization strategy, the advice from some corners seems to be to focus on local issues. This addresses the problem too narrowly. The problem is that this is a federal office, and for the most part the only “local” issues revolve around earmark spending for “jobs”. A Republican candidate can not run in a district like PA-12 without selling the message that Congress is hurting job creation, and by challenging the premise that pork spending leads to sustainable jobs.
As if it needed reiteration, the issue is jobs. Given the failure of the Obama economic message in key districts, and voter focus on national issues, the question is less about whether to nationalize districts like PA-12, but how. Why does it matter that Mark Critz won’t vote to repeal Obamacare? Because it hurts job creation. Why does it matter that Nancy Pelosi controls the legislative agenda? Because everything she passes is detrimental to jobs. Why are earmarks bad? Because $2 million per earmark-job is too much money and hurts private sector job creation.
This is in contrast to the bad sort of nationalization. Bad nationalization leads to fighting for the soul of the Republican party in a swing district general election. Bad nationalization is running as a Tea Partier with a flawed Tea Party message rather than adapting the Tea Party issues to a broader language and focus.
For years, underdog candidates campaigned against John Murtha on ethical issues, his closeness to unpopular national Democratic figures like Pelosi, and idiotic remarks Murtha made about the US Marines involved in the Haditha incident. None of it ever worked. Murtha had Federal money for “jobs”. Murtha even called his constituents a bunch of rednecks to no ill effect. (How’s that for a local issue?)
Why should these tactics start working all of a sudden, now that Murtha has shuffled off this mortal coil? Even the flawed PPP poll taken shortly before the special election showed that the Pelosi negatives were not rubbing off on Critz.
I’ve heard political consultants say “if you’re explaining, you’re losing”. Well, we’re not doing any explaining, and we’re losing, so best we figure out how to explain things in simple language and well chosen narratives.
The Republican messages and policies on jobs are national. There’s no escaping this essential fact. They need to be translated into local language. Doing so requires challenging the premise that pork spending is a long term winner, and if there’s any cycle in which to promote that message, it’s this one.