Primaries were held last night in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Vermont. Overall, primary voters sent mixed messages as to whether they prefer the safety of “establishment” candidates or the risk of insurgent candidates who may or may not have personal baggage.
In Florida, the Senate race that we’ve anticipated for some time (a three way race between former House Speaker Marco Rubio, black Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek, and Governor Charlie Crist) is now official. Though Meek received spirited competition from billionaire Jeff Greene, numerous aspects about Greene’s background left him vulnerable to attack ads. His financial dealings left him vulnerable to the attack that he “bet on and benefitted from the housing collapse” His yacht was also the subject of considerable scrutiny. At one point, Greene was alleged to have used it to travel to Cuba in defiance of the travel ban (thus offending Cuban Democrats in Miami). There were also allegations of the yacht’s anchor being dropped onto a UN recognized, environmentally protected coral reef and destroying it. Though outspent, Meek had the support of former President Clinton and (officially, at least) President Obama, and easily won the Democratic Senate primary 57-31%.
Despite the viciousness of this primary, we believe (as we mentioned several months ago in this post ) that having a Democratic nominee selected will start the process of Democrats’ migrating back to their candidate. This predicted Democratic migration will cause the independent candidacy of Governor Charlie Crist to collapse. Right now, his electoral position is deceptively strong because of his having a considerable amount of white and black Democratic support. Without that support, he has nowhere to go electorally, since the GOP vote has been locked up by Rubio for some time now.
Florida Republicans had their own vicious primary campaign, although in this case, healthcare executive and multimillionaire Rick Scott (whose campaign tagline is “let’s get to work”) narrowly defeated Republican establishment favorite, Attorney General and 10 term former Congressman Bill McCollum by a 46-43% margin in the GOP primary for Governor. In this race, the controversy was that Scott’s former company (Columbia/HCA) had to pay the federal government a sizeable $1.7 billion dollars in fines for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. While the Governor’s race has been set, the likely outcome is up in the air at this point because, like the Senate race, there will be a three way race between Scott, Democratic CFO (which is a statewide elected position in Florida) Alex Sink, and Independent “Bud” Chiles, whose father was Senator then Governor for nearly three decades. The big question about this race is whether the Republicans can unite behind their nominee like the Democrats have with theirs.
One House race we were watching in Florida for strength of liberal anger was a Democratic House primary in north Florida, in a district that is a mixture of rural counties, conservative beach areas, and liberal Tallahassee. Though this district voted 55% for John McCain, it re-elected Blue Dog Allen Boyd for 14 years with little fuss. However, Tallahassee liberals have been unhappy with his voting record for some time (despite the fact that Rep Boyd voted for “cap and trade” and for healthcare reform), and black state senator Al Lawson challenged him in the primary. Though Rep Boyd outspent Sen. Lawson 11 to 1, he narrowly survived the primary with 52% to Lawson’s 48%. He can’t rest easy, though – the Republicans are putting up a stiff challenge to Rep Boyd in November.
We have been tracking the level of GOP enthusiasm in contested statewide primaries, and Florida was yet another state where there was more enthusiasm on the GOP side of the primary ballot; in this case, 58% of its voters voted in the Republican primary, despite the fact that Democrats lead 41-36% in voter registration.
(UPDATED 8/25 AM) In Arizona, the main story is that despite a stiff challenge from the right by former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, John McCain comfortably won his primary 56-32%. In our view, McCain was only vulnerable in theory, as his voting record (as well as his public statements) took an unambiguous turn to the right after President Obama was inaugurated. Senator McCain was also able to gain additional traction by noting Hayworth’s connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Most damaging, in our opinion, was an infomercial Hayworth once did promoting “free money” from the government, because anything smacking of bailouts is extremely unpopular with Republican primary voters this year, and that association is especially damning for conservative candidates.
Like Florida, Arizona was another state where voter enthusiasm was clearly on the Republican side. In this case, 67% of primary voters voted in the Republican primary, despite a narrow 36-32% Republican registration advantage in the state.
(UPDATED 8/25 AM) A final note on Arizona: the state’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, was universally given up for dead last year when she increased taxes. Her standing up to the federal government on immigration, however, brought her back to life with a vengeance earlier this year and made her somewhat of a rock star in conservative circles. And, accordingly, she won her primary with 87% of the vote against two opponents.
(UPDATED 9/4) In Alaska, a third Senate (and a seventh Congressional) incumbent has been defeated in the primary. With only a handful of absentees to be counted, freshman Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski trailed in the Republican primary 49-51% against attorney Joe Miller, who was endorsed by Tea Partiers and by Sarah Palin. Senator Murkowski has always had electoral problems ever since her father, whose seat she filled when he was elected governor in 2002, appointed her to his seat. Since then, her pork barrel tendencies and her pro choice stance on abortion have upset many Republicans.
(UPDATED 8/25 AM) Like Florida and Arizona, Alaska was yet another state where voter enthusiasm was clearly on the Republican side. In this case, 70% of primary voters voted in the Republican primary, despite a narrow 26-15% Republican registration advantage in the state.
Once Alaska’s primary has concluded, we will be in the home stretch of primary season, as 41 states have now held their primaries. Primary season finally comes to Louisiana this Saturday, as it chooses party nominees for U.S. House and U.S. Senate races. This will be a closed primary, meaning that (1) only Republicans can vote in the Republican primary, (2) Democrats or Independents can vote in the Democratic primary, and (3) if any candidate receives less than 50% of the vote, he/she will have to compete in a runoff on October 2. This election date coincides with various statewide and local primary races.
Also holding elections this Saturday will be West Virginia. It is conducting a special primary to fill the seat of the late Robert Byrd. The winners will face each other in the November general election. After the weekend primaries, there will be a plethora of primaries on Tuesday September 14, which we are dubbing “Super Tuesday II.” On that date, there will be contested primaries in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. After “Super Tuesday II”, the last Congressional primary to be held will be in Hawaii on Saturday September 18.
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.