Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Those Quirky But Non-Trendy Primaries

Allow me to buck my pundit friends and say of all the major election races Tuesday, the one that caught my attention as most significant was the late John Murtha's seat in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District won by the old warrior's former chief of staff.

He is Democrat Mark Critz who campaigned on local issues, reminding voters of all the goodies in earmarks his former boss brought to the district of 640,000 blue collar workers (median income $30,600) as their representative for 36 years.

His opponent, Tim Burns, staked with cash donations from the Republican national and congressional committees, directed his campaign theme slamming big government, President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It didn't work and he lost by 8 percentage points. The pair will face off again Nov. 2, this time with Critz as the incumbent.

Despite a 5-4 margin of registered Democrats over Republicans, Pennsylvania's 12th was a Republican seat for the taking if the GOP has serious hopes of regaining a majority in the House in November. The White House considered it a bellweather seat for the midterms and losing it would have been a downer.

Obama and the White House political advisers had enough egg on their face as it was in the Keystone state with their support and the entire Pennsylvania Democratic machine from Gov. Ed Rendell to the Mayor of Philadelphia to the labor unions to the last Democratic precinct captain for Sen. Arlen Specter.

Specter, 80, who switched parties after serving 29 years as a Republican because he feared he would lose that party's nomination, was defeated by Congressman Joe Sestak for the Democratic nomination. The retired Navy admiral won by an 8% margin.

Now, you can spin this any number of ways. Specter's loss I think was part incumbent, part Washington establishment, part turncoat, part old age and part out smarted by his younger rival.

While Specter served his purpose for the Obama administration by voting for the stimulus and health reform bills, they dropped him like a bad habit when it appeared he might lose the nomination. On Tuesday, above the rain clouds, Obama flew over the state in Air Force One for an economic pep talk in Youngstown, Ohio, just seven miles from the Pennsylvania border. Besides Obama was burned in weekend rallies earlier this year for Democratic candidates who lost races in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts. I mean, going 0-4 is embarrassing for a popular president as it is.

If the Democratic machine had its heart in the Specter campaign, it definitely lacked passion. Besides, Sestak just might be the better candidate to defeat Republican Pat Toomey in November, and definitely a more reliable senator than the unpredictable Specter.

Also, it took about two minutes after Sestak won that all Democratic machine, Obama and Specter kissed and made up, pledging to support their new Senate nominee.

I realize that Republican/Libertarian/Conservative/Tea Party Rand Paul trounced his establishment, hand-picked opponent Trey Grayson in the Republican Senate primary to replace Sen. Jim Bunning who is retiring at the request of the state's No. One Kentucky Colonel, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

What surprised me was that despite the rabble rousing Tea Party support and endorsements by Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, the two Democratic challengers for Senate polled more votes than the Bowling Green eye surgeon whose father is the Internet phenomenon Ron Paul, the Texas congressman.

Paul will face Democrat Jack Conway, Kentucky's attorney general, who eked out a victory with 44% of the vote to Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo's 43%. Paul's chances for victory is not a slam dunk. In Kentucky, Democrats out-register Republicans 1,618,011 to 1,044,872.although for national office the GOP usually wins.

The Kentucky election was being watched around the country, especially after Tea Party activists helped to defeat three-term Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah and forced Florida Gov. Charlie abandon the GOP to make an independent run for the Senate.

My take on the Tea Party is that it will be a factor only in a handful of mostly conservative or "red" states in November. They haven't proven they're an electoral force in enough general elections yet, but could be persuasive in framing the tenor of campaigns with anger directed at incumbents, candidates deemed Washington insiders and support for those professing limited government.and opposing bank bailouts and the health reform act.

The Republican Senate race was decided early with the shameless McConnell, no worse for wear, embracing the candidate not of his choice.

"Now Kentucky Republicans will unite in standing against the overreaching policies of the Obama Administration," McConnell said. "We are spiraling further into unsustainable debt and Kentucky needs Rand Paul in the U.S. Senate because he will work every day to stop this crippling agenda."

Nor was the Arkansas Democratic race for U.S. Senator surprising. Incumbent Blanche Lincoln failed to win the majority of votes and will face Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a runoff election June 8. Declaring herself a centralist, Lincoln was attacked from the left by Halter and the right by D.C. Morrison.

Unpopular for her Senate votes on health care, the first in favor to block a filibuster, the second against the bill itself, she is no friend to the Democratic leadership in Washington. She has support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Halter support of the AFL-CIO. The runoff winner will face Republican Congressman John Boozman in November.

Not much to say about Tuesday's race because it is unclear to me whether Lincoln's failure to win outright was because she was an incumbent with a lackluster record after two terms or whether Halter ran a better campaign or the fact that Morrison collared enough votes from the right to force the runoff because voters couldn't decide the worst of three evils.

Incumbency was no problem for Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon who beat a ghost and will face Republican Jim Huffman in November.

Oregon is a forerunner of quirky politics, usually going against the norm. Politics being what they are, in Oregon one of the most popular governors in state history after a seven-year hiatus returns by winning the Democratic nomination Tuesday in a landslide. He is John Kitzhaber who held the job from 1995 to 2003.

The 63-year-old former physician who headed a medical education foundation in Colorado after he left office will face an equally well-known Republican candidate in Chris Dudley, a 6-foot-11 financial adviser and former center for the Portland Trailblazers in the National Basketball Association.

Oregon is one if not the only state that votes by mail ballot.

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