This is a guest column by William Tighe:
In CD-15, The electoral Dynamic is shifting……
But whether or not it is enough to unseat Charlie Dent, I don’t know.
Those of us who like to crunch numbers and trends have been puzzled by the viciousness of incumbent Congressman Charlie Dent’s attacks on his challenger Sam Bennett. All things being equal, there was a back channel consensus that Sam Bennett really had an uphill battle to unseat him, and he wouldn’t have to put up much of an effort to keep his seat.
So when Charlie’s team went “nuclear” (Properties of Merit, Anyone?) early and often, and continued the onslaught, there were those observers among us who thought it a tad bit of overkill. I am one of them. I follow the polls, but I have as much faith in their reliability as I do the guy forecasting the weather, which is none. However, like my blogging buddy John Morgan over at PA Progressive, I observe the trends. What we are seeing explains quite a bit about why Charlie Dent is acting like his political life is on the line. Because if the trends hold their course, it is.
There’s never a guarantee that just because a person is registered as a member of a certain political party, that they will vote along party lines. But History shows that party loyalty is stronger among Republicans than it is Democrats, by about 5 to 10 %. It’s around 90 to 95% or better for Republicans, and 85 to 90% for Democrats. If you followed party line thinking, Charles Dertinger would have been our Congressman 2 years ago. But that didn’t happen, because when theory and reality meet, you never know what you will get.
In the 15th Congressional District, in 2006, there were approximately 175,000 registered Democrats, and 140,000 registered Republicans. Those numbers are based on a total of people who had either voted once or registered to vote in that time. When it comes to Independents/Third parties, according to labels and lists, there were about 48,000, with 50.9% of those folks actually voting in 2006. That was the highest turnout of Independents in the last 4 general elections, surpassing the 44% of 2004.
This year the Voter rolls have grown with new registrants. Morning Call reporter/uber Blogger John Micek posted the county totals over at his Capitol Ideas blog, and he shows the following Breakdown: The Democrats have 109,502 in Lehigh, and 100,158 in Northampton, for a total of 209,660.
The Republicans have 77,209 in Lehigh, and 69,292 in Northampton, for a total of 146,501.
But over at labels and lists.com, they have the numbers of registered voters as of September 17th, 2008, and they show almost 400,000 registered total voters in the 15th CD. That’s 146,000 R’s, approximately 200,000 D’s, and 56,000 Everything else.
Now all things being equal, if everybody voted along party lines, and even if every Independent Third party participant voted for the Republican, you would say that Sam Bennett is a shoo in.
That’s Theory. But we live in reality.
In 2006, more than 52%, and in some precincts, close to 60% of the Democrats voted. You would think, if you were a Dem, that you were doing great, and you were. But the Republicans were better. In Some of Lehigh Counties Western Districts, out in the Macungies, Republican turnout exceeded 75 %, and in two districts I monitored, was over 80%.
Charles Dertinger received 86,000 votes, so if you stick with my 85 to 90% loyalty theory,
(175,000 X .52) = 87,500. 8750 X .85 = 74,375 then take into consideration a 45-55 ( in Favor of Dent) split of unaffiliated/third party registered voters (Approx 24,000) and you add 10,800 to that total,you get 84,175, which is pretty close to Charles Dertinger’s actual total of 86,186. The approximate 2000 vote difference could be accounted for as people registered as R’s who voted for Dertinger, which would give Charlie Dent an astounding party loyalty rate of almost 98%.
In 2006 Charles Dent received 106,261 votes. It breaks down this way: Approximately 13,200 ind/3rd parties, plus 13, 215 Dems who split their ticket, and that’s 26,415 votes, meaning 80,246 Republicans voted for him. Playing the numbers, out of 140,000 registered Republicans in the 15th CD, 58,7 % of them voted. Compare that to 52% actual turnout for Democrats, and you see why numerical registration superiority doesn’t mean squat, if they don’t actually cast a ballot. Republicans do two things well in the 15th CD. They turn out to vote, and they are extremely loyal to their Republican Party candidate. Democrats are not, and those are the two biggest variables in calculating the formula of why the hell the Republicans keep winning seats where they are at a numerical disadvantage registration wise. The overall Conservatism of the Valley does play a role, but that’s not the end all answer.
In 2004, Dent received 170,000 votes, No there was not 100 % Republican turn out either, but 110,000 of the 136,000 registered R’s did. What defeated Joe Driscoll (Who received 114,000 votes by the way) was the perception he was a carpet bagger. It didn’t help that the 21,000 Independents who voted in 2004 went for Dent by almost a 90% margin, and at least 40,000 Democrats split their ticket to vote for Dent.
Now take a minute to process this, In 2004, Democrats turned out in the 15th CD and nearly a third voted against their congressional candidate. That could happen again.
In 2006 Charlie Dent executed one of the best voter turnout operations I had ever seen. He had carpools bringing people to the polls. In the SUBURBS.
I admire the Republican Voter outreach operation. They have taken data mining and voter targeting to a technological level that is astonishing. Democrats are catching up, but the R’s are still ahead. The supposed problem this year is that the Republican base is disheartened. They are not all that enthusiastic for their candidates. They are not motivated, and experts say the polling trends show it.
I’m not sold completely on that idea. I’ve got my doubts. Where I think things are most unpredictable is the awesome surge in first time voters, the newly registered.
And that’s where the dynamic has shifted, enter all the new, young, first time voters. The Boys at CNN and the Washington Post have a word that sums them up very well: CYNICAL.
These people are not jaded by attack ads. Not from McCain, Not from Charlie Dent. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence that they are IGNORING THEM.
All these new voters know, is that things are fouled up, and the guys presently in charge are responsible. They want a new direction, and Charlie Dent and John McCain aren’t it.
This is the key to victory for Sam Bennett. A few weeks ago, I had my doubts Obama could win, and it is still not set in stone, but the trends in recent years have been right on. McCain surged, but has now faltered. The Domino onset of repeated economic crisis have been his achilles heel.
So for the sake of argument, let’s say Senator Obama carries the Lehigh Valley, much as Senator Kerry did in 2004. (But only by a couple of hundred votes)
Okay, now what has to change for Senator Obama to carry Sam Bennett to DC with him? Well, if you follow the results of the Dertinger race in 2006, Sam Bennett, to defeat Charlie Dent, will need to get a minimum 120,000 votes.
(Warning: this hypothesis is based on a 60% voter turnout, I personally won’t be surprised if it approaches 70%, and predict it hits at least 66% among registered voters).
Charlie Dent won with 106,000 votes in 2006 to Dertinger’s 86,000, and Green Party candidate Greta Browne’s 5800. (All totals approximate)
Where does Sam Bennett get 120,000 votes? It is actually pretty easy. Now easier said than done, but still…
There are now approximately 200,000 registered Democrats in the 25th CD. That’s up from around 175,000 in 2006 She needs a 70% turn out of 140,000 (Comparable to 2004) and she needs to retain 85 % loyalty (119,000). Joe Driscoll’s party loyalty index was tragically low, under 65%, so what Charles Dertinger did in 2006 retaining the base was actually pretty commendable.
The math in 2008 adds up this way for Charlie Dent. There are approximately 146,000 registered Republicans. That’s only up from 140,000 in 2006. 70% Republican turnout for Dent translates into around 98,000. Give him at minimum 98% loyalty, and you have 96,040. So lets say he picks up all 21,000 that peeled off of Bennett, (Remember, this is for the sake of argument, not cold stone facts) That gives him 117,040. that’s a margin of 1960 votes so far for Sam Bennett.
Now I haven’t forgotten about our 3rd party/non affiliated voters. What will they do? Lets take a look at their registration. Since November 2006, there have been at least 7800 new registered Independent/third party voters, raising the total to just over 56,000 from 48,000 in 2006, and data shows 50.9 % of those voted in 2006. So if we stay conservative, and guess that 50 % of the 56,000 Unaffiliated vote, that’s 28,000 votes in play.
National trends say they are 70-30 for Obama. If it is 50-50 locally for Dent/Bennett, we could be in for recount city. Trends say they are leaning in an anti-incumbent mood, due to the economic upheaval. That is really bad news for Charlie Dent. If Bennett gets anything over 50%, from the unaffiliated, the Lehigh Valley gets a new Congresswoman. In 2006 they went 55-45 for Dent over Dertinger. In today’s economic climate, It’s tough to see them going overwhelmingly either way.
My post today is neither an endorsement or disparagement for either candidate, it is a hypothetical assessment of the numbers I have in front of me. we should all remember that a late United States Supreme Court Justice once referred to there being “lies, damn lies, and Statistics.” When it comes to accuracy, I think you can easily add polls to that list, because I’ll be damned if I can say for sure I know what will happen. What I will say is that the trends are eye opening, and explain why Team Dent is so worried.
My bottom line here is that to defeat Charlie Dent, Sam Bennett needs 85%+ party, or brand loyalty. She needs a get out the vote effort like she’s never had to execute before. If the Dems can break the 60% turnout barrier, she wins outright, but anything less leaves it all in doubt.
If for any reason, (bad weather, Apocalypse, Martial Law) the turnout in the 15th CD only hovers around 50-55% overall, Dent will win reelection easily. Conversely, if it gets up over 60%, or even into the 70% range for the Democrats, their chances get better for taking the Congressional seat.
Politics 101. Get more of the people who will vote for you to the polls than your opponent gets people who vote for him there. In Real Estate, it’s Location, Location, Location.
In The 15th CD, It’s Turnout, Turnout, Turnout.
As for Charlie Dent, he has to, at the very least, match what he did in 2006, and that’s going to be tough. The ground is shifting out from under him, his base is still there, it didn’t shrink, but the opposition got much bigger, and the effort that knocked it off last time won’t suffice this go around.
I made my hypothetical analyses (And it is a Crap shoot, to say the least) after analyzing data found at Labels & Lists and published in national media. I also reviewed previous election results and did my own statistical analysis. You are free to disagree. These are my thoughts, you don’t like them? oh well.