Lessons for the rest of US

Tuesday’s primary and special elections in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania shook the establishment in both parties and frightened incumbents everywhere, but beyond anti-Washington anger, there were some other valuable lessons in the lashings.

President Obama’s endorsement is rapidly becoming the kiss of death. Jusk ask Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D), Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). Even when Obama does very little to help — or conspicuously abandons candidates as they go down, like he did with Specter — this association is now officially the last thing a vulnerable Democrat in either chamber wants.

The GOP establishment in Washington is hating it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who pre-emptively whipped his conference to secure his job, will continue to take hits from the conservative grass roots for his support of Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was wiped out by Rand Paul in the GOP Senate primary. Republicans lost the special election to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the conservative district in 2008, and the GOP needs to win such seats in order to win back the House. Mark Critz, a longtime Murtha aide, ran away from Obama and national Democrats, but Republicans failed to successfully portray a staffer to the poster child for earmarking, and one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) closest lieutenants, as the ultimate business-as-usual-in-Washington candidate. The race wasn’t even close.

ADVERTISEMENT
Whither bipartisanship? Apparently Americans don’t want the two parties to work together. Lincoln’s centrist record will likely end her career in a runoff three weeks from now if, as expected, the third-party candidate’s voters support Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) lost his bid for a fourth term two weeks ago due partly to his work with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on a bipartisan healthcare reform plan that his party leaders dismissed from the start. Specter was famous in his Republican days for working across the aisle, but Pennsylvania Democrats said, “No, thank you” as well.

Posers, fakes, professional pols and fancy types need not apply. Note that both insurgent candidates, Paul in Kentucky and Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in Pennsylvania, won big while shunning the trappings of professional campaigns, like pollsters and consultants. Both men are unconventional, humble and authentic — the fiery Paul likes to hold events in parking lots, and Sestak is an earnest and approachable Navy admiral with a warm smile who is a dreadful speaker. Sestak succeeded in characterizing Specter as an opportunist while Paul tried to paint Grayson as a blueblood by using his full name, Charles Merwin Grayson III, in campaign literature.

Republicans need to stop laughing at Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Paul the son can thank his father’s vast network of supporters for helping to propel him from opthomologist to Tea Party warrior and possibly U.S. Senator. Paul the senior’s burgeoning influence won him first place in this year’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) straw poll and second place in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference straw poll, losing to Mitt Romney by one vote. He may be more organized than popular but his impact can no longer be ignored. 

Republicans and Tea Party supporters are actually not, necessarily, the most energized and motivated voters this year. In what amounts to the biggest victory thus far tied to the Tea Party — Paul’s victory in Kentucky — the top two Democratic vote-getters won nearly 500,000 votes, while Paul and Grayson won roughly 330,000 votes. Both Democrats received more votes than Paul.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.