What the Media Got Wrong About Last Night's Primaries
In political punditry, the desire to identify trends, themes, and patterns is pretty strong. But as the year unfolds, pesky voters keep making the task more difficult.
It's an anti-incumbent year, except for all the incumbents who are doing fine. Tea Party favorites fare well, except where they don't. Candidates with establishment backing are in trouble, except when they keep winning. The candidates with more money excel, except when they're trounced. For every narrative, there are counter-examples that render it largely useless.
And while pundits no doubt find this challenging when telling the public What It All Means, I'd argue it makes for a more interesting election season. Yesterday, for example, offered all kinds of surprises. Let's take the states one at a time.
Arguably yesterday's marquee match-up was Florida's Republican gubernatorial primary, where polls showed state Attorney General Bill McCollum closing strong. The polls were largely wrong -- disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott won by three points, and will face Florida CFO Alex Sink (D) in November. While Scott's very deep pockets will help Republicans statewide, Dems in the Sunshine State seemed pleased with the outcome. "Florida Republicans nominate for governor a corrupt health care CEO that defrauded taxpayers," said Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee. "Thank you, Tea Party!"
Florida's other big match-up was the Senate Democratic primary, where Rep. Kendrick Meek easily defeated rich guy Jeff Greene, winning by 26 points, despite Greene's aggressive and expensive ad campaign. Meek will take on Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Marco Rubio (R) in the fall.
Elsewhere in Florida, Blue Dog Rep. Allen Boyd (D) faced a stiff primary challenge from state Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson. Boyd outspent his challenger 10-to-1, but barely eked out a victory, 51% to 49%.
The Republican Senate primary was, at one point, expected to be fairly competitive, but Sen. John McCain spent heavily to crush former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, and it paid off -- McCain won by 24 points. (I'd argue the infomercial controversy stopped any momentum Hayworth might have had.) Similarly, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) was, a while back, supposed to face a tough primary challenge, but the state's anti-immigrant law propelled her to Republican stardom, and she cruised to an overwhelming primary victory yesterday.
Elsewhere in Arizona, Ben Quayle managed to win a multi-candidate GOP primary in retiring Rep. John Shadegg's (R) district, despite multiple controversies.
In what may prove to be the most important primary yesterday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, expected to easily win her Republican primary, was actually losing to Tea Partier Joe Miller as of early this morning. With 84% of the state's precincts reporting, Miller led, 52% to 48%. Though it's still too soon to call the race, Dave Weigel had an interesting take on how the upset became possible.
In one of the nation's most competitive contests, five viable Democratic gubernatorial candidates faced off yesterday, and with 89% of the precincts reporting, it's still unclear who'll win. State Sen. Peter Shumlin leads with 25.1%, followed very closely by state Sen. Doug Racine with 24.9%. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz is hot on their heels with 23.8%, and former state Sen. Matt Dunne is a competitive fourth with 21%. This one might take a while to sort out.
So, what's the larger lesson from all of these results? I continue to believe the moral of the story is that there is no moral to the story.