It took a day, but the signs were unmistakable.
Democrats were letting out a deep sigh of relief after Tuesday’s primary election results.
In the all-important race to replace Congressman John Murtha in PA-12, former Murtha staffer Mark Critz won a convincing 53-45% victory. The race had been pitched by Republicans as a bellwether for coming Republican gains in November, and Republican Tim Burns’ loss seemed to crimp Republican sails and heady bravado.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, the “diabolical” power of the Tea Party movement was exposed in the easy win by activist Rand Paul, son of Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, over the hand picked candidate of Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment. More proof for Democrats, if any was needed, that the Republicans are in the midst of hostile takeover by an “extremist” movement, dedicated to the heresy of smaller government and balanced budgets.
But does this narrative survive scrutiny?
PA-12 was a psychological loss for Republicans, who had sustained a steady drumbeat of optimism regarding the ever increasing number of Democratic House seats that will fall this November. In that sense, a little humility in the service of reminding Republicans of the actual hard work required to win is not a bad thing for the GOP.
Having said that, has anyone bothered to look at the positions Critz campaigned on in his victory?
Pro-life and pro-gun, Critz stated that he would have voted against Obamacare and will oppose Cap N’ Trade.
All things being equal, Critz has more in common with Tea Party “extremist” Rand Paul than he does with Nancy Pelosi, at least on paper. Democrats may want to consider whether a election strategy that essentially opposes all that they have “accomplished’ in the past eighteen months is a sustainable model for success.
And what about Arlen Specter?
The man who authored the dubious “Single Bullet Theory” in the assassination of President Kennedy -and then ironically set out on a political career that mirrored the improbable bobs and weaves of that bullet – was ultimately felled because he didn’t stand for anything more than his own ambition.
This eye-popping conceit did not stop the Democratic establishment – up to and including the President – from embracing Specter as a Democrat, and supporting him in the primary against a former Admiral and House member that the Democrats had recruited, ostensibly to run against Specter when he was still a Republican.
Joe Sestak, who ignored all pleas and pressure to get out of the primary when Specter bolted from the GOP, must be enjoying some well deserved satisfaction.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but President Obama seems to be as toxic for Democrats in 2009-10 as President Bush was in 2006-08.
So far, in every major race where the President has campaigned for the Democratic candidate, they’ve lost. Creigh Deeds lost by 18 points in Virginia. In deep blue NJ, John Corzine lost by 4. And let’s not even talk about Scott Brown and Teddy Kennedy’s seat.
This time around, the President straddled. Endorsing Specter and appearing with him early on, but resisting calls to rally the faithful before primary day. In the end the White House got the worst of both worlds, an ultimately useless endorsement that appeared craven.
Beyond the endorsement game, consider also that the results in PA set up an interesting question for November.
Sestak is a pro-choice Democrat who supported the Stimulus and Obama care, as well as the lethal version of Cap N’ Trade authored in House. If Critz won his House race running away from the Democratic agenda, how is Sestak going to hold the Pennsylvania Senate seat for Democrats by taking these votes?
And then there is Arkansas. Democrats have been transfixed by Republican “blood-letting” in Florida and Utah, but what about their own feud in Clinton country?
Senator Blanche Lincoln was forced into a run-off with Lt. Governor Bill Halter after their 46-46 primary result, with no one getting the required 50%.
Halter is in the race because the Left — the unions in particular – are angry at Lincoln for her insufficient zeal in supporting “card check” legislation that would allow unions to organize without the requirement for “pesky” secret ballot elections, and for her flip-flops on health care.
Whomever emerges from that race is going to be a weak candidate supported by a fractured party going up against a united GOP and energized Republican base.
And as primary voters were going to the polls, there was the truly bizarre story out of Connecticut, where the Democrat’s anointed Senate candidate, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, was caught embellishing his military record to include service on the ground in the Vietnam War. In an instant, this serial embellishment changed the dynamics of a race where Blumenthal was heavily favored, to a pick ’em race where Democrats are going to have to drop significant resources to defend an otherwise secure seat.
Not that the Democrats didn’t have problems with Senate seats to begin with.
Vice President Joe Biden’s old Senate seat will almost certainly flip Republican in November. President Obama’s old Senate seat looks uncertain for Democrats with an unfortunate candidate from contemporary central casting, whose family-owned bank was bailed out by the FDIC. Barbara Boxer, a fixture of California politics is in a pick ’em race for re-election, while in Nevada, Harry Reid himself seems to be the only person who thinks he can win.
It is a harbinger of a tough political year for Democrats, no matter how you slice it.
But if there was a larger narrative that came out of Tuesday’s vote, it was of an electorate that is anti-establishment in a bipartisan way.
Specter’s cynical ambition, laid bare in a devastating ad by Sestak, may define for 2010 the kind of politics that Americans find revolting. At the same time, by rejecting Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked candidate, Republicans are on notice that should they regain power, business as usual is not going to cut it
Beyond the simple calculus of majorities, it still appears that voters are trying to get Washington’s attention, but no one in the capital understands what they’re saying.
That pent up frustration has the power to make November truly transformational.
In that sense, no one is safe, but Democrats should be worried.