By SHIRA TOEPLITZ & CHARLES MAHTESIAN, Politico
In the wake of Tuesdayâ€™s Pennsylvania special election loss, disappointed House Republican leaders have engaged in a round of soul-searching to determine the causes behind the defeat and put an end to what they view as a potentially damaging campaign narrative.
Acknowledging the widespread frustration over the decisive 53 percent to 45 percent Democratic victory, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) told the GOP Conference Wednesday he took â€œfull responsibilityâ€ for the loss, according to two Republican sources.
House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) stepped forward and reiterated their support for Sessions and his team, the sources said.
The vote of confidence came amid Republican hand-wringing and Democratic crowing over the meaning of the Pennsylvania loss, which came in the face of private and public polling that suggested a much tighter race.
POLITICO has learned that on Thursday, pollster Gene Ulm was asked to deliver a post-mortem on the race at a closed-door meeting hosted by Sessions and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is in charge of candidate recruitment for the NRCC, and attended by the vice-chairmen of the House GOPâ€™s campaign operation, a group that included Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Tom Price (R-Ga.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and senior staff.
According to a Republican source familiar with the meeting, Ulm was questioned about how and why the loss occurred and whether anyone saw it coming. The group also discussed how to maintain party morale in the wake of a humbling defeat that seemed to defy other political indicators suggesting 2010 will deliver huge House gains for the GOP.
In a memo obtained by POLITICO that is scheduled to be circulated to House Republicans on Friday, Ulm wrote that the special election outcome was largely the result of a late-breaking surge of Democratic voters toward Rep. Joe Sestak in the high-profile Senate primary, a force that unexpectedly boosted turnout in southwestern Pennsylvania.
â€œThe bottom line is that the special election coincided with very competitive Democratic primaries that inflated the number of base Democrats anxious to defeat Arlen Specter,â€ wrote Ulm, a top GOP pollster.
â€œThe Democratic primary prevented the turnout depression we have seen in other races this year: 82,675 turned out to vote, making Election Day turnout 64.3% Democrat – 35.6% Republican,â€ noted Ulm. â€œThis is overwhelmingly the most powerful factor impacting the results which makes this race different from other partisan contests held this year.â€
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