How spun was B. Drummond Ayres Jr. of the New York Times on Sunday when he wrote about today’s special election in California to fill the House seat of the late George Brown? Ayres’ line was that the seat had been a “sure bet” for Republicans to pick up. Republican leaders once “confidently predict[ed] victory by their candidate Elia Pirozzi,” he wrote, because they “had been steadily nibbling away at [Brown’s] winning margins as the district … grew more and more conservative.” A DNC spokesman couldn’t have set the stage better: If Democrat Joe Baca wins, it now looks to Times readers like a stunning upset that foreshadows a possible Republican House collapse. If the Republican Pirozzi wins, it looks like the GOP barely hung on to take a seat that should have been a gimme.
So what’s wrong with Ayres’ take? A lot:
1. It’s factually inaccurate. Republicans hadn’t been “steadily nibbling away” at Brown’s margins. They came within a few hundred votes of beating Brown in 1996. But two years later Pirozzi “lost to Mr. Brown by 15 percentage points,” as Ayres’ colleague Todd Purdum noted in a NYT piece on this very race two months ago.
2. Brown’s district hasn’t been growing “more and more conservative.” As Purdum also reported, Republican registration has “dropped from about 39 percent of the voters in the district to about 33 percent now, with the Democrats, fueled by newly registered Hispanic voters, picking up the difference.” Does Ayres read his own paper?
3. Republicans hadn’t “confidently” predicted victory by “their candidate … Pirozzi.” In fact, since the GOP’s first-choice candidate, State Senator Jim Brulte, decided not to run, the Republicans have been desperately lowering expectations, something Ayres himself noted in an August 4 piece. Since “no other Republican candidate of [Brulte’s] political stature has indicated a desire to get into [the] contest,” Ayres wrote back then, “Republican leaders say the district … may not be such an easy target.” Why is the stature-challenged Pirozzi now suddenly a former “sure bet” of these same unnamed “Republican leaders”?
Does Ayres read his own copy?