What Happened on Primary “Super Tuesday?”

By Steffen Schmidt ©, professor of political science at Iowa State University. His piece first appeared in Internet Magazine http://insideriowa.com/

May 18, 2010 was Primary Super Tuesday with lots of elections in many states (primaries are state run not dictated by national law so dates vary a lot).

In one of the “bellwether” primaries Representative Joe Sestak beat Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania in the Democratic primary. Specter left the Republican Party last time around to save his 30-year career in politics.

Why was anyone surprised? Specter was way too liberal for the “New Republicans”, the conservative wave that has been sweeping the GOP and culminated in the Tea Party Rebellion against establishment Republicans last year. He was always suspect among the majority Democrats in the state as a “switcher.” One of my former students who is a prominent businessman in New Haven said Democrats were sure that if the GOP won big in 2010 he’d switch back to them right after the election.

Besides, Specter had beaten cancer and at 80 years of age he looked it. His detractors called him “Grandpa Arlen”. My own sense is that politicians should retire or find a new line of work and maybe term limits would be a good idea so they don’t stay around forever.

Then there was Sestak who is the Scott Brown of Pennsylvania. A retired two-star admiral he has the good looks of Scott Brown who pulled that spectacular off–year election upset in Massachusetts and he exudes lots of energy. Why wouldn’t he beat Specter?

Then there is the fact that Pres. Obama, Gov. Edward G. Rendell Jr., and other Democratic Party poobahs endorsed Specter. This is the year of the anti-incumbent tsunami wave. Do you want a bunch of incumbents endorsing you? (Yes I know that Sestak is also a politician but in this primary he defeated the incumbent!)

So Senator Sestak congratulations on running a smart campaign. “Arlen Specter is a Republican” was a great campaign slogan and that’s all you needed in a Democratic primary!

The anti-incumbent mood also struck in Kentucky where ophthalmologist Rand Paul, son of true maverick Ron Paul handily (by a 24 point landslide) won the Republican primary over the establishment candidate Trey Grayson, who was supported by the most powerful Republican in the United States today, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

After the results were in Paul said, “It cannot be overstated that people want something new, they don’t want the same old, same old politicians. They think the system is broken and needs new blood.”

Oh yeah, that reminds me; incumbents losing in this political and economic climate is not surprising. It’s like the Big 12 coach with four losing seasons being kicked out by the athletic director after the fans stop coming to games.

This primary should be setting off alarm bells all over GOP land that the Tea Party Movement either has traction or they know how to support strong challengers against weak Republicans.

But, Democrats too are hearing footsteps and looking over their shoulder. The Democratic primary in Arkansas has forced incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln into a runoff election in June. Lincoln is a moderate democrat, which means nobody strongly supports her. Republicans and conservative Democrats dislike Mrs. Lincoln because she voted for President Obama’s health care reform which conservatives hate and think is a government takeover. Liberal Democrats criticize her for not fighting for the public healthcare or even single-payer, Canadian-style healthcare. They also are mad at her for her weak position on “climate legislation” and on a law that would have made unionization easier.

There was also a special election in Southwestern Pennsylvania in the district held by Democratic Congressman John Murtha who recently died. In that race Mark Critz, a former aide to Congressman Murtha, defeated Tim Burns, a Republican businessman. The district is a mostly blue-collar conservative, which should have made a GOP victory easy. Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin won that district on 2008. But we forget that working class and conservative Americans used to be Democrats! That is, until the Democrats figured out a way to become the party of big banking, big insurance, big real estate, big multinational outsourcing to China and India.

So for all the popular uprising and Tea Party hoopla the GOP has a mixed success record and the 2010 election may be the way elections often turn out. It’s a local contest determined by the personality and history of the candidates who are running and by the unique combination of economic and cultural factors that characterize that state or district.

There are no national elections in the United States, never forget that! Even the Presidential election every four years is NOT a national election. It is fifty state elections and to win a candidate has to win enough of these state elections to get the magic number of electoral votes to get the keys to the White House. All elections are local but of course a national economic funk can set a gloomy tone in many of those states and congressional districts.

November will be fun!

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