Washington Matters


More Big Party Primaries,
More Anti-Incumbent Fervor

Richard Sammon

The Tea Party movement is banking on a few more wins in the June 8 voting.



Voters in 11 states will narrow and define major state and federal races on Tuesday.Primary outcomes on June 8 and in coming weeks promise to further confirm the tumultuous nature of the coming midterm elections. They’ll be marked by voter frustration, higher-tha- usual turnout and sustained and alarmingly low public opinion about Congress, the federal government and stewardship of the slowly recovering economy.

The Tea Party movement may have a small success or two on Tuesday, but some letdowns, too. This may be the primary date when the limits of Tea Party activism become obvious. The movement is obviously a force to be reckoned with, but it’s disparate and unorganized. In several cases, local Tea Party leaders are supporting different primary candidates, some of them rebel dark horses with no real chance.

Many eyes are trained on California’s primaries. Meg Whitman, the billionaire former head of eBay, is the favorite to win the Republican nomination for governor against state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who has gained some ground by taking tough anti-immigration stands. Current state Attorney general and former Gov. Jerry Brown will win the Democratic nomination over businessman Richard Aguirre. A close race is certain in the fall. Whitman, who has steered to the right in the primary campaign, will have to move back to the center, but she has a money advantage. Brown, on the other hand, has a large statewide organization to call upon.

In the hotly contested California Republican Senate primary, Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and John McCain presidential advisor, now leads in polls over former Rep. Tom Campbell, a moderate who earlier this year was outpolling Fiorina. Campbell lacks the type of large financial resources needed to compete and organize in the largest population state. A third candidate, Chuck DeVore, a conservative state assemblyman, appeals to many Tea Party activists, but he won’t get more than about 15% of the vote.

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Sen. Barbara Boxer( D) will easily win the Democratic primary, but the liberal third term senator may be in a tight reelection effort in November, especially if an anti-Washington, anti-establishment mood takes hold and California’s independents and moderates lean to the GOP. The far-better-known Boxer only narrowly leads Fiorina and Campbell in recent polls.

In an important ballot question, Californians will most likely reject a proposal to adopt an “open primary” for future statewide races. An open primary allows the top two vote getters, regardless of party affiliation, to face each other in the general election.

Arkansas hosts a runoff Democratic Senate primary between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Halter, who appeals to Southern progressives in the state, very narrowly lost to Lincoln in the May 18 primary. But under Arkansas election rules, they face each other again in June 8 since neither got 50% of the vote.

Lincoln has been under fire by left-leaning moderates in the state for not being a more consistent supporter of President Obama and Democratic leaders, including during the health care debate. She has also struggled to defend her support of big bank rescues. She’s counting that two terms of Senate constituent service to the state will lift her in the runoff. Halter is banking on an anti-incumbent sentiment lifting him. A low turnout in the runoff will help him. His supporters are more fired up.

Looking ahead, either Lincoln or Halter is sure to face difficulty in the fall against Rep. John Boozman, who easily secured the GOP nomination and has a largely unified state party behind him.

In Nevada, the big race is later this fall between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid( D) and the Republican nominee to be chosen June 8. Reid will win his primary easily. The Republican field is large and includes Sharron Angle, a former state assemblywoman who is supported by the Tea Party, Sue Lowden, a former state GOP chairman, and real estate developer Danny Tarkanian. Angle has a narrow advantage. Thirteen Republicans are on the ballot, so whoever wins will need to work to unify Republicans in the state.

Reid is struggling with low state-wide approval ratings and is being portrayed as the primary enabler of the Obama administration’s domestic agenda in Congress. But Reid can’t be counted out. He’ll spend possibly as much as $40 million with the help of the Democratic National Committee.

In Virginia, Republicans are gunning for the seats of two vulnerable freshman House Democrats who narrowly won in 2008: Tom Perriello of the Charlottesville-based 5th District and Glenn Nye in the 2nd District in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Several Republicans, all of them claiming local Tea Party backing, are on the ballot in each district.

South Carolina voters will OK a nonbinding ballot question calling on the state to reject the new national health care reform law mandate that requires individuals purchase health insurance. The question will ultimately be decided by courts over the next several years, but the result will show continued discomfort with Obama and the new health care law in conservative states. Tea Party types will claim they rallied support for the ballot question in the state. There’ll be some truth in that, although it will be debatable how much of the result was truly due to Tea Party activism and how much to South Carolina voters largely predisposed against health care reform early on.




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