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Should Democrats Actually Be Happy About the GOP Punting the Delaware Senate Seat?

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Yglesias says no:

Looks like Christine O’Donnell will be the Republican nominee for Delaware. That means the aggregate impact of the Delaware Senate race is likely to be Democrats holding the Senate seat and picking up the House seat Mike Castle is vacating. In the short-term, that’ll be good news for progressive politics but as I said yesterday I don’t think that kind of narrowly partisan thinking gets you very far in the long run.
Ultimately, the two-party system operates near equilibrium, and so the internal state of both parties counts. It’s better for progressives and better for the country for Republicans to field strong, reasonable candidates.

I don’t really buy it, for a few reasons:

  • Given current partisan norms in the Senate — which, like Matt, I think are likely to be persistent and aren’t objectionable in principle — the actual difference between the votes that would be cast by Castle and O’Donnell is likely to be quite small, and the more important the issue the smaller that difference is likely to be.
  • The only way this won’t be true is if the ideological priorities and strategic orientation of the Republican Senate leadership change.  I see no reason to believe that any such change is imminent, and certainly adding one more nominal moderate to a tiny handful won’t do anything to change it.
  • Given that if he won Castle could be expected to vote as a teabagger when it matters, isn’t it better not only for the Democrats but for electoral accountability if an actual unapologetic teabagger runs for the seat, rather than the bait-and-switch the Republicans preferred?
  • We should also be careful not to make the same mistake that Nate Silver did with his “secret sauce” playoff prediction formula — that is, assuming that past conditions will continue to hold.   (Findings that the vice presidential candidate didn’t matter, for example, were tied to past practices, which didn’t involve selecting candidates like Sarah Palin.)    The near-equilibrium of party control, and the closely related fact that economic fundamentals drive electoral outcomes, are premised on the assumption that large “brokerage” parties will want to maximize, or nearly maximize, their electoral support.   If parties put ideology above vote maximization, all bets are off, and one party may find itself in a minority position with much greater-than-expected frequency.    The fact that Delaware has gone from a near-certain GOP pickup to a near-certain Democratic hold without any change in the underlying fundamentals is an excellent illustration of this.

Given all this, on the proposition that Democrats should be unhappy about a certain near-term advantage because of speculative long-term effects that a Castle win in the primary wouldn’t have done anything to advance anyway, I vote “no.” O’Donnell’s win is, in fact, excellent news for the Democrats.

UPDATE: similar thoughts from Atrios.

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