2010 elections, 8/4 version (three primaries, two close calls, and another House incumbent loses)

After a relatively quiet month, the gauntlet of primaries has returned. For the next six weeks, there remaining 22 primaries will be held, with primaries nearly every week (Louisiana holds its Congressional primaries on August 28 and its “regular” primary on October 2). Tonight, Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri held its primaries.

In  Missouri, there were no real surprises. Its House incumbents were re-elected with at least 66% of the vote (curiously, the “weakest” incumbent was a Republican who supported TARP), and its Senate race will feature a heavyweight battle between politicians whose last names are well known to most Missourians: Congressman Roy Blunt on the Republican side easily turned back Tea Party opposition with 71% of the vote, and will face Secretary of State Robin Carnahan on the Democratic side. This vacated Republican Senate seat will be a test of the potency of the Democratic platform in swing states: while Obama came within 5,000 votes of carrying the state in 2008, his approval ratings have plummeted since then, and Missouri’s Democrats have lately been avoiding contact with the President when he comes to town. And likely for a good reason, too: tonight, Missourians overwhelmingly voted 71-29% in favor of a proposition which would prevent the federal government from penalizing citizens who don’t purchase health insurance – in essence, this proposition was a popular vote referendum on health care reform. And this referendum passed everywhere except for the inner cities of St Louis and Kansas City  (see graphical map here).

In Kansas, freshman Republican incumbent Lynn Jenkins was re-nominated with 57% of the vote against an opponent who argued that she was insufficiently conservative while he proudly touted his “Champion of the Taxpayer” award. For the open senate seat, the endorsements of Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Steve Forbes, the Tea Party Express, and Focus On the Family did not quite lift Congressman Todd Tiahrt to victory, as he lost a close 50-45% race to fellow conservative Congressman Jerry Moran.

While Kansas gave a freshman Republican a primary scare, Michigan gave another Republican a primary scare while sending a 6th House incumbent down to primary defeat. 24 year incumbent Fred Upton survived the Republican primary with 57% of the vote – in this case, his actual voting record (support for TARP and his vote to override Bush’s veto of SCHIP in 2007) was used against him. Michigan also became the sixth House district to oust an incumbent in the primary; in this case, the issue was the incumbent Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick’s son. Her son was the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, who pled guilty to lying under oath about an affair he was having with his chief of staff. Though his sudden resignation from office was in 2008, his mother barely survived the 2008 primary against two opponents with 39% of the vote (Michigan doesn’t have runoffs). This year, she faced one major opponent, and while she received 41% of the vote this time, that wasn’t enough for her to be re-elected. The victor, state senator Hansen Clarke, will have no problem getting elected in this heavily Democratic district that is centered on inner city Detroit. Curiously, Clarke has a biracial background, with a Bangladeshi father and an African-American mother.

As a result of tonight’s primaries, 19 states (including Louisiana) still have to conduct their primaries, and two states (Georgia and Oklahoma) still have runoffs. This Thursday, Tennessee is holding its primary. We are watching the House race in Memphis to see whether playing the race card has any appeal in black majority districts. In this case, two-term incumbent Steve Cohen is a white liberal representing an inner city district that voted 78-22% for Barack Obama. His holding this seat for two terms has ruffled the feathers of the local black political establishment, so pugnacious former Mayor Willie Herenton (who is black) is challenging Cohen in the primary. Yet in this contest, any racial overtones from the former mayor have been trumped by endorsements (and a $5,000 contribution) Rep. Cohen has received from both members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He has also been endorsed by President Obama. We are fairly confident Cohen will win this primary – it is worth noting that a primary opponent in 2008 played the race card, and Cohen defeated her 79-19%.

Next Tuesday, Colorado, Connecticut, and Minnesota have primaries. We are most interested in Colorado, with competitive Democratic and Republican Senate primaries. The Democratic primary is an interesting proxy battle between President Obama and former President Clinton. This senate seat initially became vacant at the start of the Obama administration when former Senator Ken Salazar was appointed Secretary of the Interior. To fill the vacancy, Colorado’s Democratic governor appointed Michael Bennet, who was at the time the superintendent of Denver’s public schools. Though Bennet has compiled a generally liberal record and has the strong support of the Democratic establishment (including President Obama), local politicians like former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff felt slighted, and Romanoff is challenging Bennet in the primary armed with the endorsement of former President Clinton.  For some time, Bennet held a lead in the polls, until Romanoff mortgaged his house to finance a blitzkreig of negative ads. Those ads have (for now) turned the race around, but Bennet has retaliated by loaning his campaign $300,000 to finance a last minute ad campaign. The Republican contest is no less vicious, as the “establishment” and the Tea Party wings of the party are battling for supremacy. DA Ken Buck is running with Tea Party support. His main opponent is Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, who is viewed as more of an establishment favorite. 

There are two final observations we’d like to make about the August 3 primaries: (1) we have repeatedly seen instances of Republican incumbents’ being given closer than expected races due to objectionable parts of their voting record (the TARP vote seems to be the biggest of the “red flags”), which means that Republican primary voters are demanding more accountability from their incumbents; (2) voter enthusiasm this primary season is clearly on the Republican side. If we look at those who cast ballots in Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri, we will find that in Kansas, 79% of those voting statewide were registered Republicans (who only have a 43-27% plurality in the voter rolls). 64% of those in Missouri and 67% of those in Michigan also voted in the Republican primary (those two states don’t have voter registration by party). This situation is quite similar to the enthusiasm Democrats displayed in 2008, with the Clinton/Obama contest generating high primary turnouts. And while in the short term, these competitive races generate some hard feelings, in November, many of those voters will come home and help turn out Democratic incumbents and/or take over open seats that are Democratic held.

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.

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