To Hawthorn Friends & Family —
With primaries in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Idaho and Oregon, yesterday was the closest thing 2014 will offer to a Presidential year “Super Tuesday.”
All the media is – as expected – this morning reporting the obvious: the establishment won and the Tea Party lost . . . and “outside” big self-funders fared especially well (GOP Senate in Georgia, Democrat Governor in Pennsylvania, etc.); government “veterans” fared especially poorly in Pennsylvania.
True, but – as usual with the national (left, right and dwindling middle) media – incomplete.
Some additional observations:
McConnell’s Margin was Surprising
Challenged by a well-financed, strongly supported – if amateur and flawed – opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won re-nomination in Kentucky 60.2% – 35.4%. For those watching to see if his vote dropped below 50%, the answer was very clear: he rose above 60%!
He still has a race in November. Polls for the general election have been neck-and-neck. Yesterday’s outcome was among only about 350,000 Republican primary voters in a state of two million registered voters (1.7M Democrat and 1.1M Republican).
The GOP Dodged a Big Bullet in Georgia
As expected, a big-spending business executive (Dollar General), David Perdue, led into the July 22nd runoff with 30.6% of the vote. With three “far right” right-wingers trying for the second spot, it went to a fourth, the most moderate (a relative term as he, too, ran strongly to the right) alternative, 11-term Congressman Jack Kingston, with 25.8% of the vote (29,000 votes behind Perdue).
Former gubernatorial candidate and Secretary of State Karen Handel rode late momentum into third place with 22% of the vote, trailing Kingston by only 23,000 votes in a primary that brought only 600,000 Republican voters to the polls (in a state of some six million registered voters). Two even “farther right” congressmen split 20%, with Phil Gingrey getting 10% and Paul Broun getting 9.6%.
So, the two GOP candidates “most electable” in the general election head into the runoff. However, 41.6% of the Republican primary voters DID choose one of the three far-right candidates. Hard to believe, however, they will stay home en masse in November . . . and even harder to believe they’ll switch to Michelle Nunn.
But it was a vicious, costly ($7+ million) primary . . . and the runoff will be equally tough and expensive, bringing total cost of the internecine Republican battle to well above $10 million.
“Candidates DO Matter”
Must-read WASHINGTON POST columnist (“The Fix”) Chris Cillizza this morning led his list of “Five lessons Mitch McConnell (re)taught me” with, “1. Candidates Matter.”
Right . . . if obvious, still an oft-forgotten (especially by political operatives) fundamental truth.
The Tea Party is losing to the establishment NOT because incumbents/Congress/government is suddenly popular, but because the Tea Party has supported candidates ranging from inept amateurs to suicidal buffoons.
McConnell’s opponent spoke at a cockfighting rally. In Mississippi, Thad Cochran’s primary opponent is caught up with an arch-conservative blogger currently under arrest for taking a picture of Cochran’s nursing-home-bound wife. In Texas, John Cornyn – despite not getting his fellow state GOP Senator Ted Cruz’s endorsement – still beat the truly demented Congressman Steve Stockman 59% – 19%.
Candidates DO matter!
In 2010, Sharron Angle was probably the only person in Nevada Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could have beaten, and the GOP right wing – to the horror of its Wall Street and Main Street supporters – nominated her.
In 2012, President Obama LOST Missouri by ten points, 44% – 54% (losing 111 of Missouri’s 115 counties), yet Claire McCaskill beat the infamous Todd Aiken to win re-election by 15 points, 54.7% – 39.2% . . . a 25-point swing from President to the next line on the ballot, Senate.
Candidates Do matter! (but, I repeat myself)
Is Georgia Ready to Elect a Democrat Senator?
Is Michelle Nunn Ready for Prime Time?
A brutal Republican primary and run-off COULD create an opportunity for the Democrats to win a Republican seat (probably the ONLY Democrat opportunity in the country in ’14). In earlier generations, Georgia – like the rest of the South – reliably elected Democrats to the Senate (including for 24 years, four terms, her father, Sam Nunn).
However, in voting for President, Georgia has only favored the Democrat three times since 1960 . . . and two of those were for native son Jimmy Carter.
Ms. Nunn is a credible, strong candidate in her own right, long out from under her father’s shadow (who was, anyway, last on a ballot in Georgia in 1990, 24 years
ago . . . so never voted for by anyone now under 42 and precious few between 42 and 54). She is respected as a very able executive heading the Points of Light Foundation and chalking up impressive fundraising numbers.
So far, the Republicans’ “standing in a circle shooting at each other” has kept the spotlight off her. That won’t continue, certainly not after July 22nd.
And as “Politico” reported yesterday, she is going to HAVE to take positions on issues she has been avoiding:
• “ . . . she refused to say whether she would have voted for Obamacare, would back Harry Reid as majority leader or even whether she thinks President Obama is doing a good job.”
• “And while she’s critical of the president’s failure to control the deficit, she offered few clues on how she’d tackle the vexing issues, other than general promises to root out waste and help control health care costs.
• “Asked if she’d back raising the retirement age, reducing annual Social Security payments or raising taxes, Nunn said, ‘None of us as individual senators are going to be able to embrace any one set of solutions. . . . We’ll have to sit around a table with people of goodwill in a bipartisan fashion to tackle the challenges.’”
That may be deft “bobbing and weaving” that, for now, avoids a “gotcha’” headline Nunn Rejects ObamaCare”/“Nunn Falls on ObamaCare Sword”), but it won’t get her to victory in a General Election. She is, of course, caught in a “Catch 22.” Voters won’t vote for candidates who fail to take positions on important issues . . . but they also won’t vote for candidates who take positions with which they viscerally disagree.
For now, it would seem that in seeking a Senate seat, she has forgotten the prayer the Chaplain of the Senate, the late Rev. Peter Marshall, D.D. (remembered from the book and movie, “A Man Called Peter”) offered at the opening of the Senate on April 18, 1947,
“Give to us clear vision that we may know
where to stand and what to stand for –
because unless we stand for something
we shall fall for everything.”
That’s a prayer that could helpfully be offered by a LOT more candidates than just Michelle Nunn.
So, do Republicans Win the Senate?
With the better pundits’ models (NEW YORK TIMES, 538, etc.) going narrowly back and forth week to week, I think that, for now, it remains about 50-50, maybe with a SLIGHT edge to the Republicans. With 21 Democrats (some in serious re-election trouble) up and only 15 Republicans (all in absolutely or nearly safe seats), it is the GOP’s to lose . . . but so was the Presidency in 2012 and Romney lost it. But, of the seven most “competitive” Senate races, six are in states in which Romney did beat Obama.
However, Democrats – from Hagan in North Carolina, to Pryor in Arkansas, to Landrieu in Louisiana – have been polling better in recent weeks. And I’ll echo a view of the always-insightful Charlie Cook that at this point in most “wave” cycles, it’s possible to identify four or five Senators that are “gone for sure.” With the exception of the seat from which Rockefeller is retiring in West Virginia, there are not four or five “sure goners” but lots of highly competitive races, even if the majority “lean” Republican.
It IS inescapable that a number of factors DO favor the Republicans:
• the “generic congressional ballot” is about tied nationwide . . . and that portends a serious Democrat loss
• a recent “Politico” “generic ballot” poll in the states/districts with the most competitive races actually favors Republicans 41% – 34%
• Republicans are well ahead in measures of “enthusiasm” and likely turnout
• Republicans are well ahead – and will continue to stay there – on early spending on general election campaigns/advertising in competitive states
• younger voters, women and minorities – on whom Democrat victories depend – continue to suffer worst from the no-longer-Bush/now-Obama economy
• the President’s personal favorability and job performance are negative nationally and, in most competitive Senate states very, very seriously “under water” . . . and not being helped by ongoing – and tragic – crises from the captive schoolgirls in Nigeria to the scandals in the Veterans Administration.
As the primary calendar unfolds, congress recesses, and the general election campaigns heat up, we’ll look in depth at the most competitive races.