Why do conservative Democrats win?

This is an interesting statement from the NRSC about the Critz victory:

"As we saw in the special House election in Pennsylvania Tuesday, a well-funded Democrat candidate who runs like a conservative can overcome even the most unfavorable environment and win."

I’ve had a lot of conservatives tell me that the the reason Democrats won in 2006 and 2008 is that Democrats ran as conservatives and Republicans were just too darn liberal.  Since voters are seeking conservative representation, they were ‘duped’ into voting for Democrats.

I’ve challenged people conservatives who argue this to prove it and they are largely unable to.  Maybe this year the theory will be finally challenged and disposed to the dust bin of political strategies.

I just can’t buy that theory.  First of all, it doesn’t make any sense on its face.  The most conservative Democrat is largely more conservative than the most liberal Republican.  In fact, I’d be hard pressed to find any race where the Republican candidate was more liberal then the Democrat in 2006 and 2008.  So to accept the premise that voters are voting for conservative Democrat candidates because the Republicans are too liberal is to argue that conservatives are voting for the more liberal candidate for some reason.

Perhaps though it would make more sense to think that voters are voting for conservative Democrats, not because they are the most conservative candidates on the ballot, but because they have the right balance of conservative values that voters are comfortable with.  Maybe Republicans lost, not because they were too liberal, but because they were not liberal enough compared to what Democrats offered as conservatism.

The PPP has a good post up on this concept.   If you look at support among self-described moderates in PA-12, Critz had positive favorability rating of 67/27, while Burns had a negative rating among conservatives of nearly the opposite 27/52.    As a counter example, they list Senator Browns favorability rating among moderates as 62/31, almost matching Critz.

The fact that you see a lot of conservative Democrats and conservative Republicans winning primaries this year seems to give Democrats an advantage to dent the supposed GOP wave this November.  Unfortunately, conservatives may continue believing that the lesson should be that as more conservative Democrats win, the further to the right they should press.  Eventually they’ll get conservative enough that Americans will vote for them instead of Democrats.

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