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Primaries showcase fall political themes

By RON FOURNIER
June 9, 2010

An uneven night for the Tea Party (AFP)

The subplots abounded Tuesday night: Antipathy toward elected officials and the establishment. The power of special interests. Tests of party purity. The tea party. The quixotic fight against hyper-partisanship.

Each of these narratives, any one of them a powerful story line on its own, came together on the busiest day of the primary season, a concentrated preview of November’s midterm elections. And each was a result or a cause of the single most defining trait of the U.S. political landscape:

A dispirited public is demanding change. Again.

SPECIAL INTERESTS:

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a centrist from Arkansas, defied an anti-incumbent boomlet by winning a runoff against a primary opponent backed by labor groups. Union spent millions of dollars against Lincoln in a failed attempt to send a signal to other not-so-friendly Democrats.

Lincoln’s comeback strategy was twofold: She took the anti-incumbent mood head on — “I know you’re angry at Washington,” she said in one ad — while making out-of-state unions a political boogeyman more scary than even, well, a Washington incumbent.

These outsiders, she said, “try to tell us who we are and buy our votes.”

Former President Bill Clinton, still popular in his home state, especially among black voters, echoed Lincoln’s messages.

With Clinton and Arkansas business leaders behind Lincoln, the race became a fight between the state’s establishment (Lincoln, Clinton and the Chamber of Commerce) and the Washington establishment (unions).

Washington lost.

There were numerous candidates — incumbents and challengers, Republicans and Democrats — whose races were influenced by outside groups who acted independently from the campaigns. Such freelancing can overwhelm the candidates’ own message, and it gives voters more pause about the political system.

ANTI-EVERYTHING:

In addition to Lincoln, one other congressional incumbent faced a stiff challenge Tuesday night: Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C.

Inglis fell far behind his primary challenger and was forced into a runoff after a race centered around the incumbent’s support for the 2008 financial bailout. He’s not the first incumbent haunted by that vote.

Nevada voters tossed Gov. Jim Gibbons from office after a tumultuous term that was marred by a bitter divorce and allegations of infidelities.

Less than one-third of Americans say they are inclined to support their House representative in November, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, a level lower than in 1994, when Democrats lost control of the House after 40 years in power.

Four incumbents lost seats earlier this spring: Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., and Parker Griffith, R-Ala.

Political neophytes were the rage again Tuesday, winning from California to New Jersey. An unemployed military veteran stunned South Carolina Democratic Party leaders by winning the nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.

PARTISANSHIP:

Primary voters are punishing candidates who cooperate with the opposing party. Specter was one of the Senate’s best-known moderates. Republican activists ended Bennett’s career because he had worked with a Democrat on a health care bill that went nowhere.

Lincoln avoided that fate. Inglis was punished.

Voters tell pollsters that partisanship and gridlock are among the reasons they despise Washington.

California voters sought to tackle the problem by approving an initiative to scrap the primary system for state and congressional elections. Supporters say the change will benefit moderates who often stumble in highly partisan primaries. Party leaders oppose the idea — no surprise — because they fear a loss of clout.

TEA PARTY:

It was an uneven performance for the loose coalition of conservative and disenchanted voters called a tea party.

Movement candidates won in Nevada, South Carolina, Georgia and Maine.

But in Virginia, three tea party congressional candidates lost.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed the percentage of Americans who hold an unfavorable view of the movement has jumped from 39 percent in March to 50 percent.

It’s not that voters are any happier than they were three months ago. Perhaps some are starting to view the tea party — and its controversial candidates — as something else not to like about politics.

Less than two years ago, voters sought to pull the country in a dramatically different direction by electing a young, inexperienced president who promised to change politics. Despite a deep economic recession, the percentage of people who believed the country was headed in the right direction skyrocketed. Barack Obama’s job approval numbers soared.

The bloom is off that rose.

While Obama’s ratings are fairly steady now — his job approval hovers around 50 percent — a vast majority believe the country is on the wrong track. Only 22 percent of Americans say they trust the government in Washington, according to Pew Research Center, among the lowest measures in half a century.

The unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent. Oil sullies the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. troops die in Afghanistan and Iraq. Government bailouts and Obama’s health care initiative stir fears about the national debt. And, nine years after 9/11, doubts linger about the country’s defenses.

“We need,” said GOP voter Tony Williams on Election Day in California, “some new blood in there.”

___

Ron Fournier is Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press. AP writers Charles Babington, Michael Blood, David Espo and Juliet Williams contributed.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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9 Responses to Primaries showcase fall political themes

  1. woody188

    June 9, 2010 at 10:53 am

    The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed the percentage of Americans who hold an unfavorable view of the movement has jumped from 39 percent in March to 50 percent.

    Three months of smearing candidates with lies and half truth, claiming Palin to be their spokes-model, falsely calling them an “AstroTurf” group, and the government referring to the them as terrorists and racists in the mainstream media will produce this outcome.

    What you should ask yourselves is why does the media and government do this?

    • Mightymo

      June 9, 2010 at 2:27 pm

      That’s easy, because they are!

      Let’s face it, Tea Baggers are not a group organized for political change; they would not be against partasinship if they were. What they are is against anything liberal, anything non-conservative or non-christian to be more precise.

      After 8 long years of Bush I think most Americans now see the conservative / republican movement for what it is; destructive, devisive, and counter productive for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in America.

      • woody188

        June 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm

        How is it you can directly contradict yourself and think it’s all true?

        They are against partisanship.
        They are against anything liberal, anything non-conservative or non-christian.

        Classic doublethink in action. They can’t be against partisanship and against everything liberal. Quite a few of them are social liberals but fiscal conservatives.

        I know plenty of Independent and Democrat tea party supporters. Don’t be so obtuse. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Any and all believers in Constitutional rule are accepted amongst the Tea Party regardless of political party affiliation. Why don’t you talk to some of them sometime instead of repeating what you were told on CNN and MSNBC, or even this website?

        Reality is often very different from media portrayal.

        • Mightymo

          June 9, 2010 at 6:44 pm

          Hey, that’s not classic doublethink, but first let me say that sure they are made up of people from all groups who want less government and more fiscal responsibility, but in my view Tea Baggers are predominantly conservative in nature.

          As a result, I view them as predominantly against liberalism, and as a result against partisanship as well.

          I agree that it shouldn’t be one way or another, but I think that it is, and it is because the majority are setting the path for the group to follow. As far as I know no Democrat’s have been officially endorsed by Tea Baggers; if I’m wrong please correct me.

          As far as fiscal responsibility the only areas being discussed for savings seem to be social items. While there can be savings in those areas, what about cuts or savings in other areas too?

          It’s always the social programs that conservatives want to cut, but what about child benefits? It has been highlighted by a Republican under Reagan that the steady increase of child deductions has been one of the prime reasons for a lack of taxes from the bottom 47%!

          Why no push for flat taxes, same for all before pushing to get rid of social funds? Why is the war such a strong conservative issue? Why is off shore drilling such a big issue, especially when you consider the tax breaks that oil companies get? I see these issues as more important before social issues.

          • griff

            June 9, 2010 at 11:26 pm

            Do you mean liberalism in the classical sense or liberals? Big difference.

          • woody188

            June 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm

            Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) was endorsed by the Tea Party Express folks, though I don’t particularly like the Express faction of the Tea Party. They have done the Tea Party as much harm as good. According to an article at The Hill and survey by the Winston Group, Four in 10 Tea Party members are Democrats or independents. Another interesting point from that survey, “The group has a favorable view of Republicans generally but that drops from 71 to 57 percent if they’re asked about Congressional Republicans.”

            As I have stated before, many Tea Party activists support ending foreign wars for oil and Israel. There is no point to them. They are actually making us less safe, and burying our kids and treasure in the sands of the Middle East. We’re bankrupt and putting a trillion dollars a year into the war machine. It destroyed the USSR. It will destroy the USA.

            Flat/consumption taxes punish the poor more than the rich. VAT/Cap & trade will devastate the poor and middle classes. Once upon a time there was no income tax, only business taxes and tariffs. Then the Federal Reserve and wars without end came along and we got an income tax that now eats up 15% to 49% of every working persons income. Every dollar pocketed by government is 90 cents less for our real economy. Yup, 10 cents make it back to our real economy in the form of military contracts, social security, medicare, etc. The rest is mostly spent on overseas or used to service debt to the Federal Reserve.

            Judging from the amount of oil released into the Gulf, we probably should be using oil closer to home and give the finger to the Saudi’s. The whole Middle East only supplies 13% of the oil used by the USA. Our major oil and gas provider is Canada. Some of the first US businesses to enter Iraq were fast food chains. Weird right?

            Sorry Mo, I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. I get pretty frustrated when the Tea Party is smeared. Let’s all try to be a little more investigative and less slanderous.

  2. Bogofree

    June 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Reminds me back about three decades ago when Birchers ran against many sitting Republicans.

    TP would not exist if we were all just peachy keen happy with the way things are going.

    IP does attract a fringe element who seem to feel they get legitimacy by belonging.

    All in all it will be a bad November for incumbents and probably the sitting party.

    • woody188

      June 9, 2010 at 11:40 pm

      My great Aunt, God rest her soul, introduced me the the John Birch Society and the New American magazine. While there are parts that were very much “out there” a lot of their fears of where we were headed and what they talked about concerning foreign policy and the Federal Reserve holds eerily true today.

  3. AustinRanter - AKA Gregg

    June 9, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Bogo…dang, I forgot about the Birchers. Interesting bunch.

    I can’t wait for the next couple of big elections. I’m just dying to see who will be the controlling houses of the Congiban and in 12 who will be the next Presiban.

    The current day Washington soap opera is getting boring again. Political cognitive rigidity can only amuse so much.