Politically Savvy Friends

Monday, November 5, 2007

Is the Election Over or Just Beginning?

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Election Day 2007 may prove to be anti-climatic, particularly since almost everyone thinks Luke Ravenstahl will win election to serve out the term of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor as mayor of Pittsburgh.

Republican Mark DeSantis, however, has surprised almost everyone with a stronger-than-expected campaign, rooted both in some Democratic discontent with Ravenstahl's performance and DeSantis' own articulate position on issues. On economic issues, DeSantis is clearly the more conservative of the two candidates, but he is much more liberal on hot-button social issues than Ravenstahl.

That makes DeSantis a serious challenger in certain parts of the city like Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, and Point Breeze where Democrats like their Democrats to be pro-choice and pro-gay rights. But carrying the 14th Ward and even the 7th or 11th Wards would hardly be enough for DeSantis to win the mayor's office.

DeSantis needs two things to happen: traditional Democrats (many socially conservative) need to reject Luke by either voting for Mark or skipping this race and Republicans (nearly 25,000 of them) need to show up to vote, something they do not often do in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

The most likely outcome is that Luke wins, but here the issue becomes: Is the Election Over or Just Beginning?

By all accounts, Ravenstahl should do at least as well as Bob O'Connor did two years ago. After all, O'Connor coming off a divisive Democratic primary against two strong Democrats, Bill Peduto and Michael Lamb, cruised to a 67% win in November 2005. Ravenstahl, who had no Democratic opposition last spring, should get at least that.

If Luke gets more than 67% -- indeed, if he breaks into the 70% range where many of us thought he would be last spring -- then he sends a strong signal to fellow Democrats that the NEXT real election (the Democratic mayoral primary) 18 months from now is going to be pretty solid for Ravenstahl.

In contrast, the closer DeSantis holds Ravenstahl's margin to 60%, the greater the likelihood that the next 18 months will be all about which Dems are positioned to take Luke on in May 2009. If Luke falls below 60%, watch for the spin to be that he really lost by winning, setting himself up for opposition for the next two years, perhaps even a rematch against DeSantis in 2009.

I cannot predict this election. Bad weather might keep only the most hearty and devoted voter from voting -- but does that favor Ravenstahl with support from traditional Democrats who always vote or DeSantis whose voters, arguably, are more committed than Luke's? Stay tuned, but surely as the sun comes up on Wednesday, we will have a story to tell.