By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Mary Kate yesterday gave five reasons Tuesday's primary races helped the GOP. And while her post is certainly worth reading, there are as many reasons why Tuesday was a net plus for the Democrats. Let's start with...
1. Sharron Angle. Faced with an eminently vulnerable Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Republican voters went all in on the crazy, selecting the most radically conservative candidate they could find. I wrote last week that, based on her desire to do things like abolish the departments of education and energy, and privatize Social Security, Angle could be the next Rand Paul. Before this thing is through, we might call Paul the first Sharron Angle. And as Talking Points Memo reports, she's also an oather--associated with the fringe-of-the-fringe group the Oath Keepers. This crowd of police and military has taken an oath to disobey any order they view as unconstitutional. Apparently they worry that the government is about to start rounding people into concentration camps. And they believe in state nullification of federal laws, an issue which was settled with some finality back during the 1860s.
Layer on the fact that as of mid-May (the most recent reporting period), Angle had less than $150,000 in the bank, compared with Reid's $9 million. As Ron Bonjean argued yesterday, the race will turn on whether voters see it as a referendum on Reid (the GOP's hope) or a choice between Reid and a fully defined Angle (the Democrats' hope). Reid's cash advantage and Angle's fringe views nicely add up to a choice, and one that makes Reid look reelectable.
2. Bill Clinton. He is, as the song says, still the one. In May Clinton helped Rep. Mark Critz win his special election in southwestern Pennsylvania. This week, he's getting a lot of credit for helping fellow Razorback Blanche Lincoln survive her primary runoff. Clinton has become the Democrats' political designated hitter: No longer able to take the governing field, he still knocks 'em out of the park at the campaign plate. And he could be particularly critical this year. According to a battleground study from The Fix's Aaron Blake, of the 27 toss-up Democratic House districts and 10 toss-up Democratic Senate seats, Obama lost half of them in the 2008 primaries. These states and districts, he writes, are "filled with the white, working class voters where [Obama] lost to Clinton by big margins." This is Clinton country, and the popular ex president gives candidates there an opportunity. Democrats like Reps. Baron Hill (Ind.), Harry Teague (N.M.), and Mark Schauer (Mich.), for example, could simultaneously run away from President Obama and get presidential campaign swing-level benefits from Clinton. Do you imagine the Republicans will be trying to get George W. Bush out onto the hustings soon? And for that matter, any bets on who is more popular in the fall, between Clinton and Obama? PS: Clinton's next campaign stop? Rallying for Reid in Nevada.
3. Ideological diversity. Lincoln's victory might prove hollow in terms of keeping the seat--her transparent healthcare flip flops went a long way toward crippling her. But it had a larger significance, helping keep the party safe for ideological diversity. The movement left wanted to send a message by taking out a distastefully centrist Democrat, but their $10 million was for naught. The anonymous White House senior staffer was correct when s/he told Politico that big labor "flushed" that cash down the "toilet." The official added: "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." That's a good point, and one which big labor might want to consider if they face a Speaker John Boehner in January. They can either tolerate the ideological diversity of a Democratic majority or suffer under the united hostility of a Republican majority.
4. Carly Fiorina. The former Hewlett Packard CEO had to toe a hard conservative line in order to secure her party's nod to face off against Sen. Barbara Boxer. Her support of the controversial Arizona immigration law won't win her any friends among the state's significant Hispanic voting population--it was the GOP's hard right turn on immigration in 1994, after all, that solidified the Democrats' hold on the state. Her drill, baby, drill view of offshore drilling could also prove problematic in the Golden State as the Gulf of Mexico fills up with oil. Denizens of the terror no fly list buying guns? She's cool with that. And while the Obama healthcare plan is markedly more popular in California than in the rest of the country, Fiorina supports its repeal.
5. The death of conventional wisdom. Remember these accepted verities? Incumbents can't win this year. Harry Reid is a lame duck. Blanche Lincoln can't even win her primary. (I certainly remember that one, having mouthed it myself, repeatedly.) These were all elements of the larger Democrats are doomed meme. To the extent that Tuesday's mixed bag of primary returns throws a wrench into that story-line, it helps Democrats. That's not to say incumbents can relax, especially Reid and Lincoln. But Reid is stronger today than he was Monday, and Lincoln has proved herself a canny survivor who suddenly has a plausible narrative as a tested centrist.
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