Californians Approve Jungle Primary
While all the media attention has been focused on yesterday's primaries, the really
big news is that California voters
a jungle primary for statewide and congressional races starting 2011. In the current system, each party has
a closed primary, with only Democrats deciding who should be the Democratic nominee and
only Republicans choosing their nominee. In the new system, all candidates for each office
will be listed on a single ballot regardless of party (although candidates can list their
party affiliation after their names, if they want to). The top two vote getters will advance
to the general election, even if both are Democrats or both are Republicans. This change
will further weaken the party system and make it easier for wealthy outsiders to make it
to the general election ballot. It will also destroy all the small parties, since they will
never even be running candidates in November. Supporters of the measure say this change will
force candidates to the middle of the political spectrum because an extreme right-wing
Republican or an extreme left-wing Democrat will have to worry about campaigning in such a
way that it increases the other party's turnout. Jungle primaries are rare outside the
South, but California is often a leader in social change. Whether other states follow probably
depends on what happens in the first few years with the new system.
Lincoln Beats Halter in Arkansas
Now let's turn to yesterday's top races. In Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
managed a small upset and
a challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D-AR)
by 52% to 48%. Halter was backed by the blogosphere and the unions, Lincoln by the
Democratic establishment. Her win has all kinds of implications. First,
The Democrats have a well established candidate in the general election against Rep. John
Boozman. For better or worse, Lincoln is well known in the state but the ideological rift
caused by the primary will be hard to heal. It is most likely that the blogosphere and
unions and their supporters will sit this one out. If Republicans are energized by the
prospects of a pickup and half the Democrats (Halter's supporters) stay home, Boozman
should win this race fairly easily. Sometimes primaries strengthen the winning candidate
(think: Obama vs. Clinton in 2008) but definitely not in this case.
Second, Lincoln's win could have a big effect on the banking bill now before the
Senate. To everyone's surprise, as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Lincoln
pushed for and got a tough provision regulating the derivatives market,
something the banks are violently opposed to. If Lincoln had lost, conservative
Democrats in the Senate would have killed her provision immediately but doing so now
will make her look weak and powerless, something they may hesitate to do if it hurts
the reelection chances of a sitting member. Not to mention that Lincoln herself might
fight hard to get her measure in the final bill. As an aside, the reason she is in the
loop at all is that futures contracts have been traditionally used to protect buyers and
sellers of wheat, pork bellies, and other farm products from unexpected market swings, so
Agriculture was given jurisdiction over them.
Third, the results will be good news to incumbents facing tough primaries everywhere.
Lincoln was extremely unpopular with the left wing of her party, fought back, and won.
This has to be a story that will warm the hearts of other office holders facing difficult
Angle Wins in Nevada
Harry Reid's prayer's were answered yesterday as Sharron Angle, a tea party favorite,
Sue Lowden, the former GOP state chair for the Republican senatorial nomination to take on
Reid. Angle got 40% of the vote to Lowden's 26%, with Danny Tarkanian coming in at 23%.
Lowden, the early favorite, shot herself in the foot when she suggested paying for medical
care by bartering chickens for checkups. This one remark made her a national laughingstock
and opened the way for Angle. The Republicans' problem is that Reid has a huge warchest
and is going to portray Angle as a loopy extremist who was often the "1" in state assembly votes
that passed 40 to 1. She is not well known in Clark County (where Las Vegas is) and where
2/3 of the voters are. She has some positions that are going to tough to explain
when Reid brings them up. For example, she supports storing the nation's nuclear wastes in
Nevada, something Reid and nearly all the state's voters strongly oppose. It doesn't
take a lot of imagination to envision ads saying "the only thing stopping the federal
government from moving tons of toxic radioactive waste into your neighborhood is Harry Reid."
If President Obama wants to help Reid, he could make a statement saying "In principle,
I support the plan to move our radioactive wastes to Yucca Mountain, but as a special
favor to Sen. Reid, I haven't pushed hard to start transporting them there."
The not-so-subtle message here is that if Angle wins, your children will die of cancer.
What looked like an easy pickup for the GOP has suddenly become a race that leans Democratic.
Rich Women Clean Up in California
Both former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R) and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R) won their
primaries in landslides, pretty much as expected. Whitman will now face former governor
Jerry Brown (D) in the gubernatorial race and Fiorina will be up against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
in the Senate contest. While rich businesspeople often win primaries, they don't have such
a good track record in winning general elections, especially against established politicians.
Of the two, Whitman probably has the best chance because Fiorina has so much baggage.
It will be tough for her to make the case that she is a good executive (something not important
for senators anyway) when she was fired by her own board of directors for incompetence.
In contrast, Whitman did well at eBay, governors need the ability to run things, and Brown
still has a bit of a reputation as Goveror Moonbeam. Still, he is going to say that in
a crisis like California has now, you want an experienced hand on the tiller this is not
the moment for on-the-job training.
Haley Forced into Runoff in South Carolina
In a race closely watched more for its entertainment value than anything else,
South Carolina state representative Nikki Haley got
than any of her competitors
but not enough to prevent a runoff with congressman Gresham Barrett June 22 in the
contest to replace Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) who was driven from office due to having an
extramarital affair. Two men have come forward and said that have had affairs with her
while she was married. Haley vigorously denies the charges. One of them took a
polygraph test but the results were inconclusive.
The Democrats nominated state senator Vincent Sheheen as their candidate for governor,
but given the Republican tilt of the state, he has little chance against the eventual
Republican nominee. Little noted in all this fuss that if Haley
(born Nimrata Randhawa) wins, she will be the highest ranking Indian-American female politician in
U.S. history. Indian-Americans have been enormously sucessful in engineering, business,
and other fields, but rarely in politics, with the exception of Gov. Bobby Jindal of
Total Unknown Chosen to Face DeMint
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is so strongly favored to be reelected that no serious Democrat
bothered to file to run against him. As a result, a totally unknown unemployed veteran named
Alvin Greene with no money and not even a Website
the Democratic primary. How can this be?
Well, Greene is black and so are a large fraction of South Carolina's Democrats. Also,
he served 13 years in the Air Force and Army. But he didn't even campaign.
DeMint will be reelected in a landslide in November.
Anti-Incumbent Wave Stopped in Its Tracks
The media has been abuzz with stories about how 2010 will be a dreadful year for
incumbents. This meme has been based on a handful of isolated elections, almost all
special cases. First, Sen. Arlen Specter (D?-PA), someone who has been a Republican most
of his life, lost his primary to a lifelong Democrat. This vote most likely means that
Pennsylvania Democrats wanted to run a real Democrat as their candidate. In Kentucky,
an eye doctor with no political experience--but a famous name--beat the establishment
candidate. If the eye doctor had been named Paul Rand
instead of Rand Paul he would have been crushed. Besides, his challenger was not an
incumbent. In West Virginia, Alan Mollohan, one
of the most corrupt members of Congress, lost his primary. This result says more about
Mollohan personally than about any supposed anti-incumbent wave.
In Nevada, Gov. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) lost his primary, but Gibbons has been mired in
many scandals, including allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a garage.
In a much clearer test
of anti-incumbent feelings, Blanche Lincoln survived a well organized and well funded
challenge from a serious opponent. If ever there was a clear test of the anti-incumbent
hypothesis, it was here, and the incumbent won.
Ultimately, come November 3 we will know whether there was an anti-incumbent wave, but
the benchmark is whether incumbents, including Republicans, lose big. Historically,
the party controlling the White House loses an average of 28 seats in the House and
7 in the Senate. If that happens this year, some pundits will be screaming about what an
anti-incumbent year it was, but, in fact, that is just normal voter behavior.
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