Senate Primary Elections Indicate an Interesting Midterm Election
Primaries for the congressional elections coming up in November took place across the country on Tuesday night. These primaries are important because of the insight they offer into how the general population is likely to vote in the November elections. While compiling this news story, we have relied on several news reports that appeared on the CNN website.
Several primaries took place yesterday; among them the ones that appear particularly interesting are those for senate seats from Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. In Arkansas, the “Centrist” Senator Blanche Lincoln is seeking Democratic nomination for her own seat in the U.S. Senate. She is being challenged by Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, who has the backing of several unions and progressive groups. In Pennsylvania, incumbent Senator Arlen Specter was defeated by Representative Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary. Joe Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, managed to pull off a victory after trailing Specter initially by a 2-to-1 margin. It is interesting to note that Senator Specter, a lifelong Republican, switched parties last year owing to his perceived inability to win the Republican nomination because of the challenge he was facing from the political right. It appears that winning the Democratic nomination was just as difficult for Senator Specter! The third primary that has attracted a lot of attention is for the Republican nomination for the Kentucky senate seat currently held by Senator Jim Bunning, also a Republican. In this primary, conservative insurgent Rand Paul is challenging Kentucky’s Secretary of State, Trey Grayson. Grayson has the support of the Republican establishment, including the backing of Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader. Rand Paul, a physician, is the son of Ron Paul, who contested the Republican primaries in the last presidential election. He is being supported by many “Tea Party” groups and has been endorsed by Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice Presidential candidate in the 2008 election. With more than half the votes counted, Rand Paul had received sixty percent of the votes; so it appears that he has already won the Republican nomination for the Kentucky senate seat.
It is interesting to note that while there seems to be a general rightward shift in the mood of the electorate, Senator Blanche Lincoln is facing challenge from the left. Her opponent in the Democratic primary, Lt. Governor Bill Halter, has the backing of unions and several progressive groups, who are unhappy with Senator Lincoln because of her lack of support for the public option in the congressional debate on healthcare reform. It is noteworthy that even in the current right-leaning mood of the general population, Halter is attacking Senator Lincoln for actions that are seen as “leftists” by many potential voters, especially in a conservative state like Arkansas. What is even more noteworthy that in spite of such a “leftist” poll plank, Halter is running Lincoln close, pushing her into a runoff for the nomination. It is possible that Halter’s strategy might attract a large section of voters in the Democratic primary, but would fail in the general election. In any case, it appears that Senator Lincoln’s seat is likely to be up for grabs in November.
In Pennsylvania, the incumbent U.S. Senator Arlen Specter was forced out of office by Representative Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary. Senator Specter, who switched parties last year, has the backing of the Democratic establishment, including President Obama. However, that does not seem to have ensured a safe nomination for him. While this primary result may very well end Senator Specter’s political career, it also does not bode particularly well for the Democratic establishment.
While two of these three races involve Democrats and one involves Republicans, they have a common thread running through: In each case, incumbents or establishment candidates, who normally win these nominations with ease, appear to be in serious trouble. Pundits are quick to attribute this to an “anti-incumbency,” “anti-Washington” mood in the general population. The bank-bailouts, the long-drawn debate and the haggling that took place during the healthcare reform debate, the stimulus package that was passed to get the economy going – all of these things seem to have made people suspicious of the federal government. And being unable to analyze the long-term impact of these actions, or what could have happened if these actions were not taken, people just seem to have turned against the political establishment based on their gut reaction. Being the party in power at the moment, the Democrats are likely to suffer on account of this anti-incumbency, anti-establishment sentiment. Normally also, after such a resounding victory as the one that occurred in 2008, the ruling party is expected to lose some seats in the off-year elections. The current anti-incumbency feeling in the general electorate could magnify these losses. How large these losses will be, whether they will be big enough to cause the Democrats to lose their majorities in the House or the Senate, remains to be seen. The elections are nearly six months away; a lot can change in this time. If the economy finds itself in a much better state in a few months time, come November one may yet find Democrats enjoying healthy majorities in both houses.