Commentary Magazine


What Those Primary Results Mean

Blanche Lincoln narrowly beat her Democratic challenger Bill Halter. She is among the walking wounded stumbling into the November election and is unlikely to keep her seat. Ben Smith got the quote of the night: “A senior White House official just called me with a very pointed message for the administration’s sometime allies in organized labor, who invested heavily in beating Blanche Lincoln, Obama’s candidate, in Arkanas. ‘Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,’ the official said. ‘If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.'” I’m sure the labor bosses — like President Karzai — will adore being dissed in public. Lesson: Mushy moderates who’ve boasted about their backroom deals have a hard road ahead.

Nikki Haley overcame an adultery smear campaign and won big but fell barely short of a majority. She will have a runoff against Rep. Gresham Barrett. If she couldn’t be knocked out by rumors of a sex scandal now, she has a good chance to prevail in the runoff and become the state’s first woman governor. Lesson: Voters have become skeptical if not hostile to nasty smears; those who think that’s a winning tactic risk an equally nasty backlash. And it doesn’t hurt when you have Sarah Palin at your side to stir up the base.

In Nevada, voters dumped the incumbent, the scandal-plagued Jim Gibbons, in favor of  Brian Sandoval, who would be the state’s first Hispanic governor (and who would confuse pundits who are certain Republicans have permanently offended Hispanics). In the Senate race, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle beat the former state chairwoman and other candidates. Lesson: Throw the bums out. And the Tea Party movement still matters.

In California, both Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina (also Palin-endorsed) won big. In the Senate race, the lesson from Tom Campbell’s thumping is four-fold. First, anti-Israel votes and statements are losers with the GOP base (but can earn you a J Street endorsement, kudos from Peter Beinart, or a column in the Nation). Washington politicians are out of favor — honest. And the GOP has zero interest in mushy moderates with a mixed record on taxes (i.e., Charlie Crist isn’t the only one who missed the populist revolt). Finally, it matters how strong and creative a campaign you run — better ads, a more-engaging candidate, and sharper debating beat worse ads, a less-engaging candidate, and worse debating most of the time. And from the gubernatorial primary, we can only ponder why in the world Meg Whitman wants the job of governor of a state that most resembles Greece.

The overarching picture is a familiar one: Republicans want candidates who aren’t Democratic-lite, and incumbents are guilty until proven innocent in the minds of voters. Republican women — Haley, Fiorina, Angle, and Whitman — had a good night, so Democrats will have to find an insult other than “sexist” to hurl at the GOP.

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