As the primary season wraps up, there are several things that are worth noting:
(1) For the first time in years, the Republican base (with TEA Partiers providing the psychic energy) is fired up and is holding its incumbents more accountable for their voting records, particularly if they differ from the limited government philosophy once espoused by Ronald Reagan;
(2) This increased scrutiny of Republicans takes several forms. The most obvious form is the primary defeats of four Republican incumbents (Sen Robert Bennett in Utah, Sen Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Rep Parker Griffith in Alabama, and Rep Bob Inglis in South Carolina). This scrutiny also takes the form of support of more conservative candidates (Rand Paul in Kentucky, Marco Rubio in Florida, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Sharron Angle in Nevada) over the “safer” choices favored by the local and Washington party establishments. Finally, current/former incumbents seeking promotion to another office (Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas, Charlie Crist in Florida, Ron Simmons in Connecticut, Pete Hoekstra in Michigan, and Gresham Barrett in South Carolina) have found that their “old” voting record matters to primary voters, especially if they supported TARP. Finally, an energized party base has created competitive races for incumbents like Lynn Jenkins in Kansas, Fred Upton in Michigan, and Mark Souder in Indiana if they were perceived as having “gone Washington”;
(3) Republican primary voters were much more critical of their incumbents, but there were casualties on the Democratic side as well, as Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia found out the hard way, despite their decades of seniority;
(4) A natural by-product of these contested Republican primaries is a spike in Republican primary voting. In the 28 states that have held competitive statewide primaries on both sides of the aisle so far, 55% (or 13.8 million) have voted in a Republican primary, while 11.4 million have voted in the Democratic primary. A similar dynamic was in play in 2008, when Democratic enthusiasm in contested primaries foretold the Democratic sweep that November;
(5) So far, attempts by labor and progressive activists to defeat Democratic incumbents perceived to be too conservative (a “no” vote on healthcare reform was generally the “red flag” item) have uniformly failed, and, curiously, have not gotten much support from the Democratic establishment;
(6) Rhetoric suggesting that “angry white males” are driving Republican efforts does not reflect reality. Hispanic and Asian candidates have been nominated for a multitude of offices in places like Washington, New Mexico, and South Carolina. And this year, a record 36 black Republicans have sought election to Congress. Of this group, 13 have been nominated so far, and we believe that three candidates (Tim Scott of South Carolina, Ryan Frazier of Colorado, and Allen West of Florida) have a good chance of getting elected. We are also keeping an eye on Bill Marcy in Mississippi, who is running in the Delta with Tea Party support;
(7) Even if all incumbents were somehow re-elected, the next Congress will have at least 59 new members from primary defeats and retirements alone. This volume of primary defeats/retirements has only been exceeded three times in recent memory: 61 in 1994, 66 in 1996, and 85 in 1992. If, however, a strong Republican wave materializes as expected, there will be numerous Democratic retirements in advance of the 2012 elections, in addition to those incumbents defeated in November. In fact, in the wake of the 1994 GOP landslide, 37 Democratic incumbents called it quits;
Looking forward, there are eight more primaries which will be held next week. Seven of those (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin) will be held on “Super Tuesday II” on September 14. Hawaii’s primary will be held on Saturday, September 18. We are watching the following races:
Delaware – There were several states where the Republican establishment recruited candidates to run for open Senate seats with the belief that their moderate demeanor/views on the issues made them more electable. This argument has not carried any weight with conservative/TEA Party activists who have flocked to the polls this year to support more conservative candidates. In Delaware, 18 year House incumbent (and former Governor) Mike Castle has a moderate voting record (he supported “cap and trade”) to defend against marketing consultant Christine O’Donnell, who has recently engaged the interest of the TEA Party Express who, in the wake of the shocking upset of incumbent Lisa Murkowski, wants the scalp of another RINO (Republican In Name Only). Polls currently show Castle with a narrowing lead against the likely Democratic nominee, while O’Donnell currently trails the Democrat;
Massachusetts – We had noted above that in several House races, labor/progressive groups sought revenge against incumbents who voted against healthcare reform. A final “test case” of their desire for vengeance is in a House district in Boston and its southern suburbs, where nine year incumbent Steve Lynch faces a challenge from Mac D’Alessandro, New England Political Director of SEIU. There is also a contested GOP House primary in an open House seat race where Scott Brown and Mitt Romney have both thrown their weight behind state representative Jeff Perry, who utilizes a “three part system of voting” for any legislation.
New Hampshire – This is another race where the preferred candidate of the GOP Senate Campaign Committee faces a competitive primary. However, the “establishment versus insurgent” narrative isn’t entirely accurate here, as the “establishment” candidate, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, has Sarah Palin’s endorsement. She is competing against three other major opponents, one of whom (Ovide Lamontagne) claims the endorsement of the state’s main (and conservative) newspaper.
New York – Charlie Rangel’s ethical problems couldn’t come at a worse time for him, as the 40 year incumbent fights for his political life against the son of the person (Adam Clayton Powell) Rangel defeated in 1970.
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.