On Last Night's Primaries

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 19, 2010

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From a Republican perspective, the good news is that the primary election results from last night seemed to indicate that President Obama’s political pull is not all that it is cracked up to be anymore. The President failed to help Arlen Specter pull to victory, and had to embarrassingly back away from him once it became clear that Joe Sestak had the momentum to win. Blanche Lincoln has been forced into a runoff against Bill Halter. The anti-incumbent mood means that Democrats will lose more seats than will Republicans; an indication of the President’s failure–at least in the short term–to create the kind of long-lasting Democratic majority that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to create, and which lasted for decades after his death. Democrats are now admitting that they may well lose at least one chamber of Congress, and that if the elections were held today, they would lose both.

On the other hand, I think that Republicans should have preferred to run against Specter in the fall, than to face Sestak. Sestak is beatable, but he will present a tougher challenge to Pat Toomey, given his ability to rally the Democratic base, and the possibility that he can make a play for the independent vote. If Specter were able to crawl towards being nominated, he would have had to spend a significant amount of time assuaging a Democratic base that did not, and does not trust him, allowing Toomey to secure his own base, while working to win over the independent vote. In addition, Specter’s age, and his propensity to still address crowds as “my fellow Republicans” would have made him a far more vulnerable target than Sestak will be. I am inclined to give Rand Paul the edge in Kentucky, but it will be easier to keep him from winning centrist independents than it would have been to keep Trey Grayson to appeal for the independent vote. If Lincoln is able to get re-nominated in Arkansas, she will likely be one of the most vulnerable incumbents around, and even if Halter wins, I don’t expect him to do well in what is shaping up to be a Republican year. However, facing Lincoln, a damaged incumbent, is far preferable than facing a fresh-faced Halter will be. And finally, while it comes as little surprise that Mark Critz was able to keep John Murtha’s old House seat in Democratic hands, it is disappointing, from the Republican perspective, that the seat did not swing to the GOP.

Overall, I think that Republicans have a lot to be happy about as they go into November. But the electoral mood remains volatile, and to the extent that Republicans are benefiting from the volatility, it is because they are in the minority, and are less affected by an anti-incumbent mood. In the long term, Republicans still have to convince people to vote for them, rather than merely waiting to be rewarded because people want to vote against Democrats.

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