Tuesday’s primaries gave establishment candidates another reason to worry in a year filled with anti-incumbent sentiment.
Two more lawmakers lost and several party favorites didn’t make it make it to the general election.
And with several establishment candidates on the ballot next week, they are balancing party loyalty with an attempt to appeal to independent voters.
Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.), who crossed the aisle and became a Republican in December, said he lost his primary Tuesday because GOP voters never trusted him.
“I was not accepted by the Republican Party, they just didn’t believe me,” Griffith said at a press conference in Huntsville Wednesday. “I was rejected by the constituents, they did not accept me and I appreciate that, because that’s how America is supposed to work.”
Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster, said party loyalty also plays a role.
“If there’s examples where you have been disloyal to the party that’s going to be problematic,” he said.
Bolger cited Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who lost Alabama’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination Tuesday, as the latest example of an incumbent going down in a primary for bucking his party’s legislative priorities.
Davis voted against the Democrats’ healthcare reform bill and attacked his primary opponent, state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, for supporting it.
“He basically tried to run away from [President Barack] Obama,” Bolger said. “That might have worked in a general election but he never got the chance because Democratic primary voters said, ‘No, you’re not going to turn your back on your party and still expect our support.’”
Eleven states hold elections next Tuesday and several party favorites could find their campaigns coming to an end.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who faces a June 8 runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), may join Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) as the next incumbent shown the door by frustrated primary voters.
Lincoln is under siege by unions and progressive advocacy groups who were angered by her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act and her role in the healthcare debate.
She has pushed back with support from former President Bill Clinton, who told supporters she’s in sync with their priorities. But it’s clear Arkansans are wary, and primary electorates have shown already they will reject a candidate they don’t trust.
In California, the hard-fought Republican Senate primary between former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Rep. Tom Campbell and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore has boiled down to a battle of who’s the real conservative in the race.
Fiorina, who led in some recent polls, has argued that Campbell is in tune with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Fiorina ran a TV ad quoting conservative favorite Sarah Palin as saying Campbell “seems to bear almost no difference to Boxer.”
In Nevada, Republican Senate candidate Sue Lowden has sought the support of a bedrock of conservative groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List and the Nevada branch of National Right to Life PAC. As Lowden claimed the mantle of the traditional Republican, she faces a stiff challenge from Sharron Angle, who has the support of the Tea Party Express and other groups.
Establishment candidates don’t have a good record in this cycle’s primaries. The National Republican Congressional Committee has lost five of its supported candidates, including Griffith, and it may lose another next Tuesday.
The committee is backing auto dealer Scott Rigell (R) in the primary to take on freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), but Tea Party groups have endorsed Rigell’s rival, businessman Ben Loyola (R).
Rigell had difficulty burnishing his GOP credentials after it emerged he donated $2,000 to Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 and his car dealerships received hundreds of thousands in taxpayer funds through the "cash for clunkers" program. He has attacked the president and the clunkers program in the primary campaign.
Nye’s seat is a top GOP target.
And as primary candidates make themselves more appealing to their party’s electorate, capturing independent voters in the general election will prove challenging.
Bolger argues Republicans will have an easier time than Democrats repositioning after the coming primaries.
“I believe it will be easier for Republicans to make that transition than Democrats because the Republican base does unify very, very quickly after a primary,” he said. “Their eyes are on the prize of making it harder for Obama and [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid to pass their agenda.”