Election night commentary: women rule
Wed June 9, 2010 10:46 am

This was the big takeaway from the pundits on election night: It was a great night for women and for Tea Party activists. Here is a sample of the punditry:

--Mark McKinnon, writing in the Daily Beast: "Voters in 12 states expressed their anger with Washington and special interests Tuesday night by defeating a $10 million union campaign to unseat a senator who had the courage to stand up against their special interest legislation, promoting women outsiders who have run public companies but never held office, and supporting candidates aligned with Tea Party values. And as clear evidence of voter desire to the shake up the good old boy network in politics, women ruled the night."

--Jonathan Alter, writing on the Newsweek Web site: "We already know that this is the year of outsiders, but it may be that the most successful outsiders aren't Tea Party Foxulists but women of all stripes. With only six women governors, 16 women senators, and 74 women in the House, female candidates are fresher for voters looking for change. The problem for Republicans is that the wacky ones might hamstring the serious ones." We already know that this is the year of outsiders, but it may be that the most successful outsiders aren’t Tea Party Foxulists but women of all stripes. With only six women governors, 16 women senators, and 74 women in the House, female candidates are fresher for voters looking for change. The problem for Republicans is that the wacky ones might hamstring the serious ones." (more on that point later--pb)

[Alter continues] "In Arkansas, being a woman helped Sen. Blanche Lincoln pull off a huge upset in a runoff over challenger Bill Halter, who led by a comfortable margin in almost all pre-primary polls. Bill Clinton campaigned for Lincoln, which no doubt helped, and Lincoln’s anti-derivatives amendment in the Senate gave her some populist cred. But I’d argue that she won as much because she’s a woman as anything else. In the public imagination, the stereotypical Washington hack just isn’t wearing a skirt. So while the conventional wisdom now favors Republican Rep. John Boozman in the general election, Lincoln’s come-from-behind win might energize her supporters and make that race competitive after all, a big turnaround."

[I would argue that the reason Lincoln won her primary--in addition to her gender--is that her opponent, light gov Bill Halter, was the candidate of organized labor, which was seeking to punish Lincoln for voting against labor's pet card-check legislation. Lincoln was able to establish a narrative of being an independent underdog who was being bullied for voting her conscience -- a good position to be in at a moment when voters are angry at power cliques and the political establishment. In fact, labor isn't really "establishment" in Arkansas, which is one of the least unionized states. As Alter noted, Lincoln will be a big underdog in the general election against Boozman. Fivethirtyeight.com assesses the probability of a Republican victory as 92%.]

--Josh Marshall, writing in Talking Points Memo: We still don't have clear read out of Nevada. But it's not too early to take some stock of what tonight tells us. We know about the huge tide of anti-incumbency across the country. Blanche Lincoln looks like the exception that proves the rule on that one. And whatever you think of Lincoln, don't underestimate the difficulty for an incumbent of getting pushed into a primary run-off with a very disappointing result and then coming back to win the run-off. That's very difficult.

But I think the big story here is Nevada. Harry Reid is weak. And Sue Lowden looked like a serviceable establishment GOP candidate who could take him out. But she self-destructed and the win looks like it will go to Sharron Angle, a hard-right Tea Partier who makes Rand Paul look like a bit of a trimmer. And no, that's not hyperbole.

This is the kind of result national Republicans have been desperately hoping to avoid. And it's the price of the 'energy' Republicans have been benefiting from on the right. In Nevada, you might say, their chickens are coming home to roost.

That doesn't mean that Democrats aren't going to have a really rough November. But when you look at this result, the Democratic win in John Murtha's seat last month and a lot of other small tells, it starts to look like Republicans may trip up their own stride enough to allow Dems to get away with a bad November rather than a catastrophic one. Maybe.

--Peter Beinart, writing in the Daily Beast: For the Republican Party, Tuesday's primaries contain good news and bad news. The good news: Republicans are angry—angry at Barack Obama, angry at the national debt, even angry at some of the leaders of their own party. Anger is a good motivator, and in midterm elections, where turnout is small, a little motivation goes a long way. The bad news: Republicans are not hungry. They're not willing to submerge their anger for the sake of winning elections. They either don't think they need to compromise their ideological purity to beat Democrats this fall or they don't care. In either case, they may be blowing their shot at a midterm landslide.

Angle is the perfect symbol of the Republican base in 2010: She's a fresh face; she enjoys grassroots support, and she wants to repeal the handiwork not just of Franklin Roosevelt, but of Theodore Roosevelt.

Exhibit A: California. The Golden State's political history is clear: centrist Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson (a moderate before he became an anti-immigrant demagogue) can win statewide elections. Right-wing Republicans cannot. The state is just too culturally liberal and too ethnically diverse. This year, GOP primary voters could have chosen a slightly dull, highly wonky, pro-choice former congressman named Tom Campbell. Campbell, according to a recent Los Angeles Times poll, would have led incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer by seven points in the general election. Instead, they chose former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who opposes the right to abortion, can't decide if global warming is real, won the endorsement of Sarah Palin, and according to the Times poll, trails Boxer by the same margin Campbell leads her. Fiorina didn't win the GOP Senate primary only because she is more conservative; she also bought it with her vast personal wealth. But her combination of conservatism and inexperience gives Boxer a chance to sneak back into office.

Exhibit B: Nevada, where everyone agrees that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is extremely vulnerable. But perhaps not quite vulnerable enough to lose to Sharron Angle, a woman who wants to abolish social security, the department of education and the income tax. Reid did his best to make Angle his opponent, spending heavily to undermine the more moderate GOP frontrunner, Sue Lowden. It seems to have worked. Angle is the perfect symbol of the Republican base in 2010: She's a fresh face; she enjoys grassroots support, and she wants to repeal the handiwork not just of Franklin Roosevelt, but of Theodore Roosevelt.

Successful parties motivate their activists, but harness them as well. They convince them that it is so important to retake power that it's worth supporting ideologically impure candidates who have the best chance to win. That's not happening in today's Republican Party. The GOP has not been in the political wilderness long enough to make those compromises; it's not in a pragmatic frame of mind. Republican activists are desperate to show America how angry they are; they're less desperate to win elections. And on both counts, they may get their wish.

--Brian Darling, writing in redstate.com: All eyes in Washington are on the Tuesday tea leaves to see if the Tea Party movement is here to stay. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) may have scored a Pyrrhic victory in squeaking out a win over lefty Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, yet she is going into this fall as the most endangered incumbent member of the United States Senate. Also, Washingtonians are taking note that Sarah Palin rocketed a handfule of unknown Tea Party candidates into front runner status. Washington noted the two clear victors yesterday — the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin.

[Note: Palin went head-to-head with Dick Cheney in the South Carolina governor's race. Cheney, whose endorsement of Kay Bailey Hutchison fell on deaf ears in the Texas gubernatorial primary while Palin was endorsing Rick Perry, endorsed Gresham Barrett in the South Carolina governor's race against Nikki Haley, who was endorsed by Palin and finished with a shade less than 50% of the vote--pb.]

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