And were off. The first wave of 2010 elections are over. Depending on
who you listen to, the results were a shocking repudiation of Barack
Obama or a complete rejection of all incumbents, or the first signs of
a tsunami of conservatism, or the beginning of the tea party era in
American politics. Or none of the above.
The messages were so mixed its impossible to draw broad conclusions
no matter what the experts say.
In Utah, three-term U.S. Senator Robert Bennett didnt even make it
out of the state Republican convention. Bennett, whose conservative
credentials used to be considered solid, was whacked from the right by
tea party members, something called the Patrick Henry Caucus (PHC),
the Eagle Forum and the Club for Growth. Their common thread is
distrust of the government, a love of the Tenth Amendment (states
rights) and less regulation of business. Their next target is Orrin
Hatch, thought to be too willing to be bipartisan. Clearly, the
conservatives are on the march.
On the other hand, out in Arkansas two-term U.S. Senator Blanche
Lincoln, the youngest woman ever elected to the Senate at 38, was
deemed not quite liberal enough for that states Democrats. She ran
afoul of the traditional Democrat coalition by failing to support a
public option in the healthcare reform bill. Her punishment is a
run-off against Lt. Governor Bill Halter who has most of the
institutional support and money.
So one Republican not conservative enough and one Democrat not far
enough to the left.
Elsewhere, Democrat-come-lately Arlen Specter, a Republican U.S.
Senator for 30 years, was crushed in the Pennsylvania primaries by
two-term Congressman Joe Sestak. The results here are a little easier
to understand Democrats voting in a primary election tend to shy
away from a candidate who came to their party a couple months ago, was
an old pal of George W. Bush, and fully admitted he switched parties
not because of some deeply held philosophical beliefs but because he
believed it would be easier for him to win as a Democrat. Sestak, a
solidly middle-of-the-road Democrat and a retired three-star admiral
in the navy, will now face Republican Pat Toomey in November. Toomey
should be conservative enough for even tea party supporters.
In the special election to replace the late John Murtha, a Democrat in
a fairly conservative Pennsylvania congressional district, Democrat
Mark Critz, a former aide to Murtha, defeated Republican Tim Burns in
a race that defied the notion that Washington insiders are doomed this
election cycle. But Critz wont be able to relax for long as he has
to defend his seat in November.
Out in Hawaii, the seemingly impossible happened as a Republican won
a special election for a House seat in Barack Obamas home district,
but even thats a little deceptive. Two Democrats both decided to
stay in the race in a fit of obstinate self-destruction. They split
60% of the vote and their Republican opponent walked away with the
seat with 40%. His reign will likely be a short one as he has to
defend his unlikely victory in November.
Out in Arizona, voters actually passed a one percent statewide sales
tax increase as the state tries to fill a $2 billion budget deficit.
For those who havent been paying attention, Arizonans taxing
themselves is fairly unusual.
And then there is Rand Paul in Kentucky. The son of Congressman Ron
Paul, this is one clear victory for the tea partiers. Ordinarily one
would assume Paul will skate into the Senate in November in a
conservative state, but he has had some post-primary problems with his
mouth. Seems Mr. Paul is not so sure the Civil Rights Act or the
Americans with Disabilities Act are not intrusions on the private
Unfair was the word he used. But he wasnt quite through. He also
said he thought President Obamas criticism of BP and their inability
to stop the Oil Spill from Hell was also unfair. He actually said,
Accidents happen and the presidents criticisms were
Yikes. One wonders if the good Republican voters of Kentucky were
aware of that thinking when they went to the polls. Actually, it
doesnt much matter since they are filling the seat of retiring
Republican Jim Bunning who was a terrific major league pitcher but who
has been a decidedly minor league U.S. Senator. Philosophically, Mr.
Paul wont be much of a change.
So what does it all mean? Not much. The old bromide that all politics
is local is pretty much true, endorsements from sitting presidents
during off-year elections have never meant much and there were too few
elections to determine any real trends. There is most surely anger
with Washington and incumbents but we already knew that. So far, that
anger has been directed at both Republicans and Democrats. Since
Democrats hold more seats up for grabs its likely they will bear the
brunt of voter discontent.
But every race in every state will have its own set of issues specific
to just that race. For every decision in Michigan that turns on
unemployment there will be decisions in Arizona that turn on illegal
The one thing we can be absolutely sure of is this: the Big Money
special interests will find a way to protect themselves and they
really dont care who wins elections as long as they still have the
Steven Tuttle is a political consultant who formerly wrote for the Arizona