The message that came out of a special election in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District back in 1974 was that President Nixon and the GOP were in big trouble.
The winner of that special election was a Democrat, John Murtha, who won the seat held for nearly 24 years by the late Republican John Saylor. Murtha's win was an early indicator that the ongoing Watergate scandal was going to be a disaster for the GOP, and indeed it was: the party lost 43 House seats that year.
Thirty-six years later, Murtha is gone. And while the 12th CD is a 2-1 Democratic district, it is culturally conservative and not happy with the Obama administration. And thus it's an opportunity for the Republicans to make a statement, similar to the one made in January in the Massachusetts Senate race, which resulted in an improbable victory for Scott Brown.
The Republican candidate in the 12th is Tim Burns, a businessman and first-time candidate. Burns has nary a bad thing to say about Murtha but he is attacking Mark Critz, the Democratic nominee who was a long-time aide to the late congressman, as everything that's wrong in Washington, suggesting that Critz would support the "liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda."
For his part, Critz tells voters that electing him would be a continuation of everything Murtha stood for.
Even though so many elections are often portrayed as the MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN HISTORY, the truth is, special elections have the potential to be — and sometimes are — pretty significant. Be it Murtha in the Watergate year of '74, David Obey's upset in Wisconsin in 1969, the specials won the Republicans leading up to the GOP sweep of '94 and those won by the Democrats in early 2008, they all sent signals that something is going on in the country.
Both parties know it. Scott Brown, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have all weighed in on Burns' behalf. Vice President Joe Biden has already been in the district for Critz, and Bill Clinton is arriving on Sunday.
This one is worth worth the hype.