Tuesday May Primaries: Voter Ire at Party Establishments and Washington (News and Blog Roundup)
The voters from coast-to-coast most assuredly spoke loud and clear in what some have termed a (mini) Super Tuesday Primaries vote — delivering a couple of unmistakeable messages suggesting that while the rhetoric may be politics as usual, the voter mood is not politics as usual. If you distill it all down you come down to these strands:
1. Screw the party establishments. Both Democrat and Republican party bigwigs were served notice that just because a party elite anoints or backs someone the days when that can assure victory are if not over then not happening right now.
2. Incumbent is a dirty word no matter which party you belong to. The political demise of Pennsylvania’s Arlen Spector — the former Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat now turned out — is the third incumbent in less than two weeks to bite the political dust.
3. Washington we don’t love you anymore — as if we ever really did. This goes to the heart of an undercurrent more profound than just anti-incumbency. It goes to the heart of the basic, growing belief that government is badly broken not just in terms of enacting but implementing — and truly listening.
4. Candidates have to convince voters they really stand for something. Candidates who seemed to fudge or hedge on the right or left were either dead meat or spoiling meat. Some on the left and right now broadbrush those kinds of politics as all moderates. But the voters’ wrath seemed to come down on candidates being perceived as into game playing to stay in power. On the other hand the vote did underscore one unmistakeable fact: it is increasingly difficult for a politician in either party who wants to chart a moderate path to have the support of his or her party’s base (right in the GOP and left in the Democratic party). RINO and DINO hunting season is now open..
5. Barack Obama does not exactly have the political Midas Touch: When he was elected there was much speculation and anticipation that given the way Obama and his team won the election in terms of organizing and making the political arguments he would be another FDR who would sit at the top of his party and help guide and slide it into another era. The first part of that assumption seems incorrect and the second part may be correct — but certainly not in the way Democrats had in mind. This suggests that in some instances if Obama campaigns for some Democrats he could be helping their Republican opponents.
But everyone will see this differently, depending on their own political prism. So here’s an extensive roundup of mainstream and new media reaction to the vote, some of the races, and its overall meaning. These are added randomly. Note that these are only excerpts so we encourage you to go to the link and read each article or post in its entirety.
(This post is written as you read it. REFRESH TMV often to see the quotes. When this post is finished this paragraph will vanish)
—Dick Polman as usual has a post that MUST be read in full. His election post gives out “awards.” Here is one of the key ones:
Most Embarrassed Republican: Mitch McConnell, literally by a landslide. The Senate minority leader, and senior senator from Kentucky, was slapped upside the head and every which way by the grassroots conservatives of his own state. The candidate he actively backed for the ’10 GOP Senate nomination was shellacked last night by tea-party favorite Rand Paul, the son of libertarian Ron Paul. This result is arguably the best evidence that the GOP is being pulled even further to the right; Rand Paul favors abolishing the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education – the same stances that purist conservatives espoused, to the party’s detriment, during the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, here is Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate naysayers who oppose Obama at every turn – and yet the conservatives in Kentucky apparently don’t think he’s conservative enough, so they take the opportunity to whack him as a member of the establishment. As one tea-partier told CNN yesterday, “It’s time to blow up the (Republican) party. We have to be less like Democrats.” Given how McConnell has sought to thwart the Senate Democrats at every turn, I was not aware that he needed to be less like the Democrats. But that’s just me. No doubt he’ll move toward the tea partiers with all deliberate speed; if we see him on the Washington Mall toting a sign depicting Obama with Hitler facial hair, we’ll know his conversion was complete.
Tuesday’s balloting is a fresh reminder of what all the combatants have understood for months: It’s a lousy year to be a Democrat, an incumbent or President Obama.
At the very least, Democratic majorities in the Senate and House will shrink significantly this November.
For the first time, however, it’s not just Republican dreamers chirping that the I-loathe-Washington riptide could cause one or both houses of Congress to flip in the fall.
“If the election were held today we’d lose both,” a top Democratic strategist acknowledged. “Thank goodness it’s not being held today – but we still might lose the House.”
Pennsylvania was the biggest prize for anti-establishment forces. Longtime GOPer Arlen Specter’s primary comeuppance is especially galling to a White House that gleefully welcomed him into the Democratic tent just a year ago.
As Specter tanked, Obama couldn’t be found in the Keystone State. He and his handlers didn’t want to risk more embarrassment after Obama campaigned for losing gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia and couldn’t keep state Sen. Scott Brown from claiming Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat.
—The always lively conservative blogger/columnist Jules Crittenden thinks it’s too simplistic to say it’s an anti-incumbent wave:
I dunno. In his case I’d suggest it signals a wave against shameless opportunistic mountebanks.
After all, the night’s big winner … former Murtha aide Mark Critz in the special to replace the departed … effectively was the incumbent. The other big win, Rand Paul, may have bucked the GOP establishment but his opponent was no incumbent. If anything, he’s given the GOP another Brown-like headsup. If you want to beat the status quo, stop being it.
…We’re not unelecting incumbents … we’re technicolor yawning at their campaigns! We’re tossing our conventional cookies. We’re losing their free lunch. We’re blowing chunks … of their careers. We’re splattering our boots, and these boots were made for walking. We’re giving them the bad news on the big white phone. We’re driving the porcelain bus of politics!
Rand Paul’s victory in the Kentucky Republican primary is obviously a depressing event for those who support strong national defense and rational conservative politics. In another year, such a victory would be a prelude to a Republican defeat in the general election. This year however the tide is running so strongly with the GOP that … well … that Rand Paul may benefit from the political rule so well described by Brooklyn ward heeler Hymie Shorenstein back in 1940…
…How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul? In the past few months, we have seen GOP conservatives rally against Utah Sen. Bob Bennett. There has been no similar rallying against Rand Paul: no ads by well-funded out-of-state groups. Some senior Republicans, like former VP Dick Cheney, indicated a preference for opponent Trey Grayson. But despite Paul’s self-presentation as “anti-establishment,” the D.C. conservative establishment by and large made its peace with him. It is this acquiescence – even more than Paul’s own nomination – that is the most ominous news from tonight’s vote.
It’s worth noting that the Democratic establishment candidates had a tough time in close-fought races. Arlen Specter had the backing of the DSCC and Barack Obama, was an incumbent who delivered key votes to Harry Reid — and still lost to Joe Sestak, who couldn’t claim any of those things. Blanche Lincoln managed to survive to a runoff round with an almost-imperceptible lead over Bill Halter but not a majority. The problem for both is that the Left is more energized than the center in this cycle, which made it hard for establishment candidates to keep support.
The larger problem for Democrats is that the entire Right is significantly more energized than the Left. While Lincoln hashes out her runoff and Sestak tries to run to the center after beating Specter from the Left, Republicans are already positioned to generate turnout models that will handicap Democrats greatly. There is a large difference between winning a closed primary and winning a general election, and the anti-incumbent fever that impacted both races will add to Democrats’ woes regardless of whether Halter wins or not — and it’s worth pointing out, as Pat Toomey undoubtedly will, that Sestak is an incumbent in the House….
….The lesson for Democrats from last night was that the backlash against the establishment means a backlash against them in the general election. For Republicans, the lesson is that they should not throw tons of resources at open seats in heavily Democratic districts this fall, but focus more on Democratic incumbents and open districts with narrower Democratic registration advantages.
But the biggest deflation of the Tea Bag came in Pennsylvania’s 12th District, where Republican Tim Burns — a Tea Party fave who got heavy media play at Fox for the past couple of weeks — still couldn’t pull off the victory against Democrat Mark Critz, a longtime John Murtha staffer who leaned heavily on his old boss’ legacy to keep his seat. This was a race that had been touted on Fox and elsewhere as a likely pickup for Republicans. Quoth Tory Mazzola, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which dumped $200,000 into the race: “The fact that we have a strong GOP candidate, Tim Burns — committed to job creation and repealing ObamaCare — combined with a favorable Republican environment has turned this historically Democratic seat into a swing district.”
RNC chairman Michael Steele had even guaranteed a Burns victory. Ooops.
So of course, having invested heavily in promoting the “Mini Super Tuesday” election as a referendum on President Obama, Fox had to figure out some way to spin the results that way. This meant getting out their spinmeister “pollsters”, Frank Luntz and Doug Schoen.
Luntz managed to turn PA-12 into an anti-Obama referendum by pointing out how Critz ran to the right during the campaign. (Um, OK, Frank, whatever. Tea Party Dude still lost.)
Schoen even more bizarrely tried to claim that Specter’s loss was “anti-Obama,” because the president had endorsed the converted senator. Um, so, lessee if we have this straight: In DougSchoenland, Pennsylvania Democrats rejected a conservative ex-Republican and replaced him with a progressive Democrat not because he was a piss-poor Democrat, but because he wasn’t right-wing enough? Come again?
—MSNBC’s First Read as usual has an extensive analysis. Here are two of the key parts of many:
*** Is this really 1994? Here’s another lesson we learned from last night: A good campaign can overcome a tough political environment. In the only contest pitting a Democrat against a Republican, Mark Critz (D) defeated Tim Burns (R) in the special congressional election to replace the late Rep. Jack Murtha (D) in Pennsylvania. As we’ve pointed out, this isn’t a good sign for the GOP in its quest to take back the House in November. Why? Because this was a race that Republicans — in this kind of political environment — should have been able to win. Yes, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district. And, yes, the Dem turnout in the competitive Sestak-vs.-Specter primary helped Critz (though the statewide Dem turnout wasn’t overly impressive). But this was the only congressional district in the country that John Kerry won in ’04 but Obama lost in ’08, meaning that it was ripe for the picking. Remember, back in 1994, Republicans were the ones winning House special elections. But can this be ’94 all over again if the Democrats are the ones winning these things — four straight this cycle (PA-12, NY-23, CA-10, NY-20) and seven since 2008 (IL-14, MS-1, LA-6). By the way, there was a ton of finger-pointing among House Republicans after they lost the NY-23 special late last year; it could be worse internally after last night.
*** A good night for the Dems? Indeed, it wouldn’t be wrong to view all of last night’s results as a good night for the Democratic Party. In addition to holding on to the Murtha seat, they ended up with two relatively blank-slate candidates (Sestak in Pennsylvania and Jack Conway in Kentucky) — and maybe three (if Bill Halter wins the run-off in Arkansas) — who might fare better in this anti-incumbent/anti-establishment environment. It’s quite possible that Democrats end up losing all three Senate contests in November. But it’s also hard to argue now that Specter, Mongiardo, and Lincoln would have been the party’s stronger general-election candidates. And if the Democrats win one of these races in November, they’ll consider that a victory of sorts.
Former John Murtha staffer Mark Critz’s win in the PA-12 House election is just straight-up embarrassing for Republicans. The Democratic strategy was straight out of the 2006/2008 playbook. Find a moderately conservative House district and run a somewhat heterodox Democrat. You don’t win every race, but you win a bunch…..
This was supposed to stop working in 2010. The end of the Bush backlash and the rise of anti-Obama sentiment, combined with the reality of the legislation coming out of the Pelosi-era House is supposed to get Republicans back to baseline at least. To see a Democrat win an open seat in a district that went for John McCain will be a welcome sign to a large number of House Democrat incumbents from red districts.
Almost all election analysts now agree that 2010 will not be a good year for Democrats. The latest RCP Averages for the major Senate races show Republicans picking up 7 Senate seats (down from 8 one month ago). This is a striking reversal from the early months of Obama’s presidency, when most forecasters were predicting Democratic gains.
The House has shown similar movement. Early in the cycle, pundits predicted sunny days for the Democrats in November of 2010, with beltway forecasters like Charlie Cook (“Obama’s Democrats are heading down a track much closer to 1934’s [when they picked up seats]”) and Stu Rothenberg (“[T]he chance of Republicans winning control of either chamber in the 2010 midterm elections is zero”) arguing that major GOP gains were close to impossible. Today it is a different story, and Cook now believes that it is hard to see how Democrats keep the House, while Rothenberg sees a 25-30 seat pickup (with gains in excess of 40 seats possible). I see a 50-seat Democratic loss as the most likely outcome, with the potential for things to get considerably worse.
One way to sort through these different scenarios is to examine what drives these losses for Democrats. Is 2010 shaping up to be an Anti-Incumbent, Anti-Liberal or Anti-Democratic year? This isn’t easily reducible to statistical testing, but I think it goes a long way toward explaining whether Democrats will lose 20 seats, 50 seats, or 80 seats. Let’s examine all three scenarios a bit more closely.
Go to the link to read it all.
—Law Professor Scott Moss writing on The Politico:
A great, great night for Democrats. First, PA: to procure Specter’s party switch, the White House had to promise Specter their backing — but they likely agree with most observers that Sestak is the better bet to hold the seat for the party. Second, KY: the Rand Paul victory is good for Dems too: Kentucky votes R for Senate reliably enough that Grayson would’ve been a safe bet, whereas Paul is a wild card who puts a likely R safe seat at risk (he’s the exact opposite of religiously conservative, economically populist voters who have some history of voting D) — a mistake Republicans may be making around the country by handing tea partiers the keys to party HQ. Third, likely the biggest deal of the night, PA-12: in a non-incumbent race, a district that went for McCain in ’08 just stayed Dem, in an environment that, it now seems, isn’t as much like 1994 as many had been speculating…..But we have to start rethinking the “1994 all over again” meme.
—Red State sees a lesson for GOP moderates who might ever think of accepting Democratic party bigwig’s invitations to jump ship offered with assurance of support:
I’ve got news for you, buddy. It’s not going to shake out that way. And let this be a memo to other milquetoast establishment figures who might someday find a popular conservative daring to challenge them in a primary: Don’t believe the media hype about the Republican party moderate purge. Despite the fact that they’re going to get shellacked in November, the Democrats are even more pissed about their moderates than we are. And if the combined power of Obama and Rendell can’t save you from the teeming horde of orange-clad hippies, no one can. You’ve got exactly one chance to survive, and that’s to stay in the party that’s funded your re-election year after year, go home to your state, and convince the Republican residents thereof that you deserve to keep representing them year after year, as the best chance for compromise they’ve got.
Maybe they’ll buy it, maybe they won’t.
But what we learned last night is that bolting to the Democrats will bring sure and swift destruction – and no matter what Obama says, he cannot save you.
The defeat of Arlen Specter – Pennsylvania’s longest-serving senator in history – and the victory of “tea party”-backed Rand Paul in his Kentucky Senate primary Tuesday signal a restless electorate disinclined to follow the wishes of the Washington establishment of both parties.
In Pennsylvania, the storied political career of Senator Specter comes to an end despite the backing of the president and governor, the latest evidence that political coattails are a myth in this age of the independent political operator. Despite final polls showing a tight race, Specter lost to Rep. Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary 54 to 46 percent. Congressman Sestak will face former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania in November.
In Kentucky, novice politician Rand Paul – son of the libertarian former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas – decisively beat the GOP’s hand-picked candidate, state Secretary of State Trey Grayson, 59 to 35 percent. The Paul victory represents the largest win yet for the tea party movement, an antitax, small-government backlash that has energized conservatives across the country for more than a year. The Grayson defeat was also a defeat for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who had recruited Mr. Grayson to run. In November, Paul will face state Attorney General Jack Conway, who narrowly defeated the more conservative Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo in the Democratic primary.
In a way, the Democratic Party was the biggest winner Tuesday as Democrat Mark Critz won the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District for the seat held 35 years by Rep. John Murtha. Mr. Critz had served as an aide to Congressman Murtha and parlayed that lingering affection for the late congressman – and his own local knowledge of a hard-scrabble district accustomed to federal largesse – into victory. The Critz victory against wealthy GOP businessman Tim Burns, 53 to 45 percent, dealt a major blow to Republican hopes of a House takeover in November and gave the Democrats a boost of confidence amid all the dire predictions.
A growing wave of discontent with government crashed down on “establishment” candidates running in primaries Tuesday as voters turned five-term Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter out of office and nominated a populist “Tea Party” candidate in Kentucky.
Few races represented the political backlash sweeping across the country better than Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary, in which Specter was defeated by Rep. Joe Sestak. Specter, who bolted from the GOP in 2009, vowed to support Sestak over Republican Pat Toomey in the fall.
“This is what democracy looks like,” a beaming Sestak told supporters. “It should come as no surprise to anyone that people want a change.”
…A growing wave of discontent with government crashed down on “establishment” candidates running in primaries Tuesday as voters turned five-term Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter out of office and nominated a populist “Tea Party” candidate in Kentucky.
….The president’s party has lost seats in Congress in 10 of the past 12 midterm elections. Jennifer Duffy with the non-partisan Cook Political Report says the results show if “your name starts with ‘senator’ or ‘congressman,’ voters view you as part of the problem, regardless of party.”
The most interesting question is how the Powers of Old Washington will react to the primary results. Will they double down? The San Francisco Chronicle says the five important lessons from Tuesday’s elections are: Organized labor is still organized. Pete Sessions is on a serious losing streak at the House GOP’s campaign committee. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is in a heap of trouble — at home and at work. Democrats still can successfully woo working-class whites in the industrial heartland. It just might be a good year to be a geek.
Despite everything, a lot of the powers that be are just going to up the ante. Promise more free stuff. Get on a higher horse. Renew their alliances with SEIU, rename ACORN, buy more ads in the newspapers, and maybe in some concession to modernity, even on the blogs. It just might be a good year to be a geek and an even better one to wear blinkers.
At any rate the oppositionists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can he attained only by letting them work and keep most of their paycheck. Let the ruling classes tremble at the mighty army who want to barbecue burgers on a weekend and play catch around the yard. The oppositionists have nothing to lose except a bunch of politicians who think they can borrow their way out of debt. They have only what they already own to win.
—Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga analyzes the returns (go to link) and likes what he sees. Concluding:
Goodnight all. It was a good one. The intensity gap was nowhere to be found, and the GOP couldn’t pick up the lowest of low-hanging fruit. And really, we gave the establishment a serious beating. And no joke, it’s for their own good.
So let’s make sure we have more nights like tonight..
—Nate Silver (who is required reading for political junkies of both or no parties). He looks at the major races, states the conventional wisdom and gives his reaction. Here is his analysis of the Murtha seat race (BE SURE to go to the link to read the entire post):
Pennsylvania 12th Congressional District — Special election
The results: Mark Critz (D) defeats Tim Burns (R), 53-45.
The conventional wisdom: A big, clutch win for Democrats.
The reality: Neither outcome would have been surprising here. The polling showed a toss-up, and the district (with a PVI of R+1) is close to the national median. There’s a lot of variance in open-seat elections for the House; even in an environment like 2008, Democrats would have had about a 30 percent chance of losing this seat, and even in one as relatively poor for them as 2004, they would have had about a 40 percent chance of winning it.
Still, the 8-point margin of victory was surprising. As I wrote yesterday morning: “It’s really only if one of the candidates wins by middle-to-high single digits … that [PA-12] might tell us something”, and Critz met that threshold.
Republicans have some decent excuses; they may have been harmed by the fact that there was a contentious Democratic Senate primary occurring at the same time, for instance, and the DCCC seems to have a peculiar knack for winning special elections. The Democratic candidate ran against his party’s health care bill! But make no mistake: there are garbage cans being kicked, and consultants being sworn at, at NRCC headquarters right now. And the Republicans may need to engage in some self-reflection about whether nationalizing the race will be the optimal strategy in each of 50 distinct states and 435 distinct Congressional Districts.
–CNN’s Candy Crowley on whether this is the year of the anti-incumbent:
–Fox News gives its take:
–NBC’s Today talks to David Gregory and the always solid analyst Chuck Todd on the significance of the vote, the tea party movement and what this portends for November:
–What message did the voting send? The AP:
–CBS talks to Rand Paul after his victory:
–Is Obama on a losing streak? Is his endorsement turning out to be a kiss of death — or is that too simplistic an argument? CNN: