So why do you insist that this election is "a look at which party's message appears to be having more impact in the final live test before November's general election" and that "Whichever side emerges as the winner will have a better sense of what they have to do to appeal to the residents of other swing districts for the rest of the cycle"?
If PPP is at all correct, Democrat Ron Barber is going to hold this seat; they have Barber up by 12 points over Republican Jesse Kelly. Regardless, there's far too much going on here to think of it as a "test" of the parties' message, much less a test that should be judged by who wins the election. Remember, it's very possible for a candidate to run a much better campaign and swing an election by a substantial amount in her favor...and still lose by ten points, if the underlying fundamentals implied she should lose by fifteen points. That seems like the most simple concept in the world, and yet time after time you'll see reporters assuming that John McCain or John Kerry or Michael Dukakis must have run a terrible campaign because, well, after, all, they lost, didn't they?
(Second order thing to know: it turns out that the fact that people misinterpret these things is actually important, too; campaign tactics used by winning candidates are going to be emulated, and those used by losing candidates discarded, even if objective analysis might find that the losing candidate ran the more effective campaign but was doomed by factors beyond the campaign.)
Anyway, I'm pretty sure that Bland knows better, and is just torn between realizing that specials don't tell us very much and, on the other hand, trying to sell some greater meaning to the contest. See this confused paragraph:
In general, people tend to over-read the broader impact of special elections for House seats. A Democratic hold in the 8th District would not necessarily signal a renaissance for the party, nor would a GOP victory mean that Republicans would look likely to add seats in November. (For one thing, the redistricted version of the district gets more Democratic for the fall election.) But the district's makeup -- slightly Republican-leaning and senior-heavy, with a historical moderate streak -- makes it an interesting bellwether for the ongoing messaging war between the parties, especially on Social Security and Medicare.So, don't over-read it...it's just a bellweather!
Hey, reporters: Congressional elections matter because it matters who holds seats in the House and Senate, end of story. You really don't need any larger meaning, and usually there isn't one.