Election Tuesday: A Mixed Bag for Progressives

Tuesday's slate of primary and special elections in eight states included some chances for progressive pickups and could indicate a tide of anti-GOP sentiment in the 2006 general elections this November.

The biggest and best news of the primary elections is that the progressive John Tester won a big victory over the less-than-progressive John Morrison in the Montana Democratic Senate primary. Among the disappointments, progressive challenger Marcy Winograd lost to Iraq-war supporting incumbent Rep. Jane Harman in the 36th House District of California. And Democrat Francine Busby lost in her attempt to claim the 50th District congressional seat in San Diego from a slew of Republicans running to replace the disgraced Rep. Duke Cunningham.

In more encouraging news, in Montana and California two incumbent Republicans with ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff did not get overwhelming party support, indicating their weakness heading toward the general elections in November. The following is a summary of important results in Monday's primary elections.

Montana Senate primary results:

Progressive John Tester scored a surprise landslide victory by 25 percent over the "centrist" candidate John Morrison, whose candidacy was run out of consultants' offices in D.C. via remote control. These results are all the more impressive considering that poll taken only a few weeks ago in Montana had Morrison leading Tester 42 percent to 41 percent.

John Tester's candidacy against the incumbent Republican, Conrad Burns -- whose ties to Jack Abramoff are the subject of increasing scrutiny for federal investigators -- is suddenly one of the best chances for a serious progressive to make it to the Senate. Tester wants an exit strategy for Iraq and a massive switch toward sustainable energy, and he has a record of supporting progressive economic measures on taxes and health care. Conrad Burns received just over 70 percent of the vote in the GOP primary, demonstrating that he doesn't have full support of Republican voters after revelations of his potentially criminal involvements with lobbyist Jack Abramoff.


Special Congressional Election for the 50th District:

Republicans spent more than $10 million to retain the congressional seat in San Diego vacated by former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who retired to spend more time in the federal courts for accepting bribes from defense contractors and cavorting with pals at cards 'n' prostitutes parties at the Watergate Hotel in Washington. Democrat Francine Busby ran a tough campaign against numerous Republican contestants in the open election, the heavily favored GOP candidate Brian Bilbray has narrowly defeated her. Still, Busby's vote tally in the mid-40s in the heavily Republican 50th District is an improvement on her 37 percent showing in 2004.

The 36th Congressional District Democratic Primary:

Progressive Marcy Winograd raised hundreds of thousands and launched a serious challenge to incumbent Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Harman's three votes in favor of the Patriot Act, years of complicity with the Bush administration over Iraq and unwarranted wiretapping marked her as a target of Democratic activists who were furious with the Democratic Party's spineless response to the Bush administration.

Winograd appeared to have a fighting chance, as the recently redistricted 36th contains the progressive strongholds of Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Unfortunately for Winograd and her team of volunteers, Harman won her primary by more than 25 percent. Will Winograd's 37% showing be enough for Harman to repent and reconsider her sins against her constituents, the Democratic Party, and the nation as a whole? Probably not. But Harman will likely face a stream of serious progressive challengers for the rest of her political career.

Primary for the 11th Congressional District held by Richard Pombo:

As expected, GOP House incumbent Richard Pombo held on to the Republican nomination for his district. But the Abramoff-tainted chair of the House Resources Committee garnered just over 60 percent of the party vote. Reviled by environmentalists for his years of attacks on bedrock enviro-friendly legislation like the Endangered Species Act and his Tom DeLay-style cordiality to the worst corporate offenders, the seven-term incumbent received a stiff primary challenge from former Rep. Pete McCloskey, who was a co-author of the Endangered Species Act.

Democratic primary winner Jerry McNerney faces in a rematch from 2004 against a very vulnerable Pombo, who received a smaller share of votes than former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in his Republican primary this year.

California Gubernatorial Democratic Primary:

The $70 million contest between Democratic candidates Phil Angelides and State Controller Steve Westley vying to compete against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the general election featured a blowout of ad buys and little else. The demonstratively more reform-minded Angelides narrowly defeated Westley, gathering less than 50 percent of the total vote.

The vapid attack TV advertisements during the campaign will likely be cited by many in the media as a principal cause of the low turnout for the entire California primary election, rather than widespread citizen dissatisfaction with the state of the political system in California. Early estimates were that 40 percent of registered voters turned out on Monday, only slightly above the historic low of 36 percent in 2002.

Corporate smackdown in Humboldt County:

Via John Nichols, I learn that the good people of Humboldt voted to deny corporate personhood in their county by a margin of 55-45 in a local ballot measure:

Measure T was backed by the county's Green and Democratic parties, as well as labor unions and many elected officials in a region where politics are so progressive that the Greens -- whose 2004 presidential candidate, David Cobb, is a resident of the county and a active promotor of the challenges to corporate power mounted by Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County and the national Liberty Tree Foundation -- are a major force in local politics.
Rest of California:

Debra Bowen won the Democratic primary for secretary of state. Her record and positions on electronic voting and fair elections mark her as among the most progressive and reform-minded progressive secretaries of state candidates in the country for 2006, joining Mark Ritchie in Minnesota and John Bonifaz in Massachusetts. Both propositions on the California ballot were rejected by voters, including a proposal to increase state income taxes by 1.7 percent on earners of $400,000 or more to fund preschool for all four-year old children. Jerry Brown, former California governor, three-time presidential candidate, and mayor of Oakland, comfortably won his Democratic primary campaign to become attorney general.

This article was updated to reflect final elections results.

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