There are two ways of looking at last night’s results. There is the point of view already being trumpeted by the Washington establishment that “Primary night yields good news for Obama, Dems.” There is, however, still the reality that in the 22 states where both parties had contested primaries, 54% of primary voters have chosen a Republican ballot. Furthermore, the “good news for Obama” was that after seeing endorsed candidate after endorsed candidate go down to defeat, President Obama finally had one of his endorsed candidates win a Democratic primary. Finally, four of the “top of the ballot” races were decided by less than 5% of the vote.
Connecticut – Two races caught our attention here. In the Republican Senate primary, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon won her primary with 49% of the vote against two weaker candidates. And “netroots” favorite Ned Lamont, whose claim to fame was his upset of Senator Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in 2006, fell far short last night in his effort to become Governor.
Georgia – In the Republican runoff for Governor, former Congressman Nathan Deal is ahead by about 2,500 votes. He narrowly defeated Secretary of State Karen Handel, who quickly conceded to Deal and urged Republicans to get behind his candidacy. What was interesting about this runoff was that it was a battle of endorsements: while Handel was one of several “grizzlies” who had Sarah Palin’s endorsement, Deal countered with endorsements from Mike Huckabee (who carried Georgia in the 2008 GOP presidential primary) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who represented the Atlanta suburbs in Congress for two decades, and thus helped Deal get crucial votes from that area of the state). The closeness of the race and the ensuing recount will benefit the Democrats somewhat, as its nominee, former Governor Roy Barnes, won without a runoff. Additionally, the fact that Deal will have to address a congressional ethics investigation (some think this is why he abruptly resigned from Congress back in the spring) and an apparent federal grand jury probe will surely be brought up by the Democrats in the general election campaign.
Minnesota – The Democrats narrowly nominated a more liberal candidate, Target heir (and former one term senator) Mark Dayton. Unlike his primary opponents, there is little doubt about where Dayton stands on economic issues: his own website plainly states “…You can read my lips: Tax the rich…”
Colorado – This was the primary last night that held everyone’s attention. In addition to the fact that the contested races at the “top of the ballot” (Senate Republican, Senate Democratic, and Republican Governor) were all decided with less than 55% of the vote, there was a proxy fight between Obama and Clinton in the Senate Democratic primary.
(8/12 update) On the Republican side of the Senate contest, this was yet another race (after Kentucky and Nevada) where the establishment Republican candidate (Lt Governor Jane Norton) lost to a candidate (DA Ken Buck) who had Tea Party support. The Republican primary was a nasty fight, with insults traded back and forth about masculinity and high heels. On the Democratic side, appointed Senator Michael Bennet won his primary 54-46%. This was the first time that a candidate supported by Obama (former President Clinton endorsed Bennet’s opponent) won a contested primary, although it didn’t hurt that Senator Bennet was well funded: while Bennet’s opponent had to mortgage his house to raise enough money to compete in a final ad blitz, Bennet was able to counter this action with a $300,000 personal loan. There is also a final factor that aided Bennet that has only recently been discussed: most of Colorado’s counties conducted the primary election using only mail-in ballots. Because 2/3 of the vote was already cast a week ago, it’s possible that a good portion of the Bennet vote was already cast while he was riding high in the polls, thus limiting the impact of the “ad blitz” Bennett’s opponent funded by mortgaging his house.
One more thing about Colorado which is worth mentioning: there is now a second black Republican (the first was Tim Scott in South Carolina) who has been nominated to run for Congress. City councilman Ryan Frazier is challenging a two term Democratic incumbent in the Denver suburbs in a district that voted 59% for Obama. This is a race where we believe the Democrat is vulnerable because of his down the line support for the Democratic agenda.
(It’s also worth noting that last Thursday’s primaries in Tennessee showed limited appeal of using the “race card” in districts with a heavy black majority, as incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen defeated former Mayor Willie Herenton in a 79-21% landslide, with the aid of President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus.)
After this latest round of primaries, 15 more states still have to conduct their primaries (Louisiana has its Congressional primary on August 28, and its “regular” primary on October 2). Washington and Wyoming have its primaries next week, and on August 24, there are four primaries (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Vermont) and the Oklahoma runoff.
As a final thought, the predominant media has asserted that the Republicans’ nominating weak candidates means this will be a better year for Democrats than thought. If this were an ordinary year, this would likely be a true statement – voters are normally reluctant to vote for candidates who aren’t “safe.” This year, however, voter unrest over the economy and the perception that they are being ignored by a Congress that is instead more interested in passing legislation favored by its activist base means that the more predominant emotion will be one of “throwing out the bums.” In “throw out the bums” elections, the bar is considerably lowered for challengers, since they merely have to make the election a referendum on the status quo.
John is a political consultant and blogger with JMC Enterprises with expertise in poll sample development and analysis, development of targeted voter files for phone canvassing or mail outs, campaign strategy and demographic consulting, among other things. See his site at WinWithJMC.com for more information.