The Year of the Anti-Establishment Candidate
Last week, ten states held congressional and gubernatorial primaries. Further, in recent months, roughly fifteen states in total have held primary elections. In each of these elections a common theme has been present: anti-incumbency. If this trend continues in the coming months, it appears that establishment candidates, party-endorsed candidates, and incumbents will be in for a rude awakening. The American people are fed up with “politics as usual” and politicians who are interested more in the needs of special interests than those of their constituents. The 2010 midterm elections represent a battle between politicians and real statesmen. In most cases, the anti-establishment statesman has defeated the party-endorsed incumbent. This forecast seeks to examine the 2010 midterm elections, and several instances in which party-endorsed candidates have been defeated by lesser-known political outsiders. Also, the forecast will examine key primary races in the months leading up to the general election on November 5th. The 2010 midterm elections, much like the 1994 “Contract with America” election, is going to be a referendum on incumbency, “Washington politics as usual”, and the Obama presidency. When historians look back on the 2010 midterm elections, they will agree that it was a transformation of the American political system.
Political scientists and pundits believe that the 2010 midterm elections will bring about a conservative “revolution.” While it appears likely that conservatives will win back the House, Senate and the majority of governor’s mansions, the conservative ascendency is not the focal point of this essay. As noted, incumbents and establishment candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties are highly vulnerable in their 2010 primary elections. Their support for the financial and auto bailouts, coupled with support for Cap and Trade and ObamaCare, has positioned many incumbents and establishment candidates, especially liberal Democrats, in a precarious position. Further, countless Republican incumbents and establishment candidates have been defeated due to their moderate positions on social issues, fiscally irresponsible spending, and penchants for earmarks/pork barrel projects.
It appears that the 2010 midterm elections represent a significant turning point in the American political landscape. For perhaps the first time in political history, a vast majority of incumbents, Democrat and Republican, are vulnerable. Moreover, political outsiders, business leaders, and political activists have had resounding success in their primary elections. In January 2011, when the 113th Congress is seated, a number of familiar faces will no longer grace the storied halls of the United States Capitol. Individuals such as Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Rep. Dave Obey (D-WI), Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), will no longer represent their states. The demise of each of these long-serving incumbents indicates that Americans are distraught with the politics-as-usual crowd and are prepared to elect new leaders to the highest positions in our nation’s government. If America is to remain the most powerful nation on the planet, it is of paramount importance that our elected officials focus on generating policies that will ensure the betterment of the citizens, not special interests.
In last Tuesday’s Arkansas Democratic primary, incumbent U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln, the party favorite, was nearly defeated by the populist and youthful lieutenant governor Bill Halter in a runoff election. On the evening of the primary, neither Lincoln nor Halter garnered enough votes to be declared the winner. Arkansas election rules stipulate that a candidate must receive a majority of the vote in order to be declared the winner. In the primary election, Lincoln received 44.5%, compared to 42.5% for Halter. Later, in the runoff election, Senator Lincoln defeated Lt. Governor Halter 52% to 48%. Blanche Lincoln, the senior senator from Arkansas—one of the nation’s most conservative states—has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate. Her support for Cap and Trade, higher taxes and ObamaCare has made her one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress. At one point in the primary when her chances of winning were bleak, Bill Clinton was called in to resurrect her campaign. Support from the still-popular former president allowed her to narrowly defeat her left-leaning challenger.
Earlier in her career, Blanche Lincoln was considered a moderate Democrat. In recent years, however, Senator Lincoln has become one of the Senate’s most outspoken liberals. Arkansas voters are fed up with Lincoln’s voting record and appear poised to elect a conservative Republican in November. In a head-to-head matchup with her Republican challenger, Rep. John Boozman, Lincoln is losing 58% to 38% according to the most recent Rasmussen poll (May 24-26, 2010). Senator Lincoln was lucky in that she, unlike many incumbents and party-endorsed candidates, won her party’s primary.
In the Bluegrass state of Kentucky, Rand Paul, the shrewd, effervescent son of Republican populist Rep. Ron Paul, soundly defeated the party-endorsed candidate, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, in the Republican primary. Senator Jim Bunning, the incumbent, announced earlier this year that he will not seek reelection in 2012. Bunning has one of the lowest approval ratings of any member of the U.S. Senate. His pitiable approval rating, coupled with his age (79), forced the Major League Baseball Hall of Famer to decide against seeking reelection.
The battle between Rand Paul and Trey Grayson was epic. In fact, it garnered copious media attention, as both candidates received a myriad of high profile endorsements. Secretary of State Greyson was endorsed by Senator Mitch McConnell, the archduke of the Kentucky Republican Party, and one of the longest serving senators in Kentucky history. Further, Grayson was endorsed by former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Conversely, Dr. Rand Paul, a well-respected ophthalmologist, was endorsed U.S. Senators Jim Bunning of Kentucky (whose seat he is vying for) and Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Also, Paul received the endorsement of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin; his father, Rep. Ron Paul; former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes; James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, a renowned evangelical organization; the Libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus, headed by Senator Jim DeMint; and the Tea Party Express. Paul defeated Grayson by an overwhelming margin; 58% to 35%. Furthermore, the most current Rasmussen poll, from June 1, 2010, indicates that Rand Paul is narrowly defeating his Democratic challenger, Jack Conway, 49% to 41%. Political pundits contend that Grayson’s insider status, his background as a career politician, and a large voter turnout by Tea Party Patriots cost him the Republican primary. Rand Paul’s awe-inspiring victory over Republican insider Trey Greyson indicates that the Tea Party Patriots are a seminal force in the 2010 election. In several other states, particularly Nevada, Alabama and Utah, to name a few, the candidate endorsed by the Tea Party Express or similar organizations has been victorious, At no other time in American political history has an outside force played a more significant role in electing and defeating candidates as the Tea Party Patriots in 2010.
In Nevada, former beauty queen and state GOP Chair Sue Lowden was stunningly defeated by the Tea Party-endorsed candidate, Sharon Angle. For months, Lowden held a colossal lead over both Sharon Angle and Danny Tarkanian. In recent months, however, Angle’s campaign saw a rapid ascendency as she began receiving a number of important national endorsements. Angle was endorsed by the Club for Growth, the Tea Party Express, Life and Liberty PAC, Pat Boone, conservative polemicist Mark Levin, Phyllis Schiafly, and the Citizens United PAC. In contrast, Sue Lowden, the party favorite, was endorsed by Arizona Senator John Kyl, former Tennessee Senator and Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson, conservative polemicists Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and the National Rifle Association, to a name a few. The most recent Rasmussen poll, released on June 9, 2010, shows Sharon Angle defeating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, 50% to 39%. Much like the Kentucky Republican primary, the Tea Party-endorsed candidate was victorious.
In other recent primaries, the results were similar for incumbents and party-endorsed candidates. In Pennsylvania, incumbent Arlen Specter was soundly defeated by the ultra-liberal U.S. Representative Joe Sestak. Additionally, in Utah, longtime incumbent Robert Bennett failed to win the Republican Party nomination at the state convention. Bennett finished in third place, behind conservative stalwarts Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee. Bridgewater and Lee will face off in the June 22, 2010 Republican primary. Bennett’s demise was largely the result of his support for the stimulus package and the financial bailout. Whoever wins the Republican primary, Bridgewater or Lee, is certain to win the general election, as Utah is arguably the strongest Republican state in the union.
The following are primary elections in which the incumbent or establishment candidate is likely to be defeated or has a difficult primary challenge. In Arizona, incumbent Senator John McCain faces a primary challenge from stalwart conservative and former U.S. Representative J.D. Hayworth. Early polling shows McCain with a slight lead over his conservative challenger. McCain has received endorsements from Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson, to name a few. Conversely, J.D. Hayworth has received endorsements from the Gun Owners of America and conservative polemicists Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin and Michael Savage. As of today, it appears that John McCain will win the Republican primary, but it will not be effortless.
In Colorado, both the Democratic and Republican parties have highly-anticipated primary matchups. On the Democratic side, incumbent Michael Bennett is being challenged by Andrew Romanoff, the former Speaker of the Colorado State Assembly. Bennett, the party favorite, has a 15-point lead over Romanoff in the most recent Rasmussen poll (May 19, 2010). Conversely, in the Republican Primary, former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, the party favorite, narrowly leads Ken Buck, the Weld County District Attorney and favorite of many Tea Party activists. Early in the campaign, it appeared that Norton would coast to an easy victory, but in recent months, Buck’s popularity has soared. Both Norton and Buck lead their Democratic challengers by narrow margins in the general election.
A great deal of alacrity has engulfed the Republican Party of Wisconsin, as they have two stellar candidates vying for the governorship being vacated by incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle. In the Democratic primary, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett does not have a viable challenger and is expected to coast to an easy victory. On the other hand, the Republican Party has two excellent candidates: Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the party favorite, and former U.S. Representative Mark Neumann, the more conservative of the two candidates. At the onset of the campaign, Neumann trailed Scott Walker by roughly 30 points, but the two candidates are now virtually tied. Both Walker and Neumann are defeating their Democratic opponent Tom Barrett in the general election, Walker by seven percent, 48% to 41%, and Neumann by two percent, 44% to 42%. The Neumann-Walker matchup is the ultimate politician vs. statesman matchup. Scott Walker is a career politician who is obsessed with his political livelihood and fortune, whereas Mark Neumann is a statesman who is only running because he asserts that Wisconsin needs “real change.” Many political pundits have discounted Neumann’s chances against the Republican powerhouse, Scott Walker, but if the other primaries have told us anything thus far, it is that party favorites and establishment candidates are highly vulnerable in 2010. If that same trend plays out in Wisconsin, Scott Walker could be defeated by Mark Neumann.
The 2010 elections are poised to be among the most enthralling in American history. Incumbents from both parties are vulnerable in the primary and general elections. The 2010 elections will usher in an era of political change in Washington, D.C. as political outsiders enter both houses of Congress. The era of Washington-as-usual politics is coming to an abrupt end. In the 2010 elections, voters from all 50 states will cast their votes for the candidate they feel best represents their interests. Many of those candidates will likely be political outsiders, not incumbents.
The National section of the Weekly Political Forecast is written by PAI’s Political Analyst.