Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday's elections wrap-up: What's a "purge?"

So...what's the big news today after yesterday's elections around the nation? The main political story lines from yesterday's elections come from Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

In the bluegrass state, we saw that tiger the GOP has been trying to hold since poking it with a stick way back during the McCain-Palin campaign continue to turn around, snap and draw blood. This time, it was Mitch McConnell playing the Roy (of Siegfried & Roy), as opposed to any actual candidate (like Bob Bennett out in Utah), due to two of McConnell's hand-picked candidates getting waxed in GOP primaries.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak defeated longtime Senator Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. Turns out, Specter's party switch did not result in him getting re-elected (in part thanks to a devastating ad Sestak ran featuring a video clip of Arlen smugly predicting it would).

Primaries weren't the only thing going on, as one of the most watched races was the special election to seat someone in the 12th district Congressional seat of Pennsylvania, formerly held by the late Rep. John Murtha. Both national parties, as well as most pundits, were eagerly awaiting the results of this race, as a predictor for how things may go in the generals. Why is the 12th so important? It's a district in a democratic area that actually went for McCain-Palin in 2008. It's got a lot of those "blue-collar" voters the pundits love to dissect, the kind of people who are "fed up with Washington." If the electorate really was fed up Democrats, the theories held that the Democratic candidate, Mark Critz, would lose to the GOP candidate. The Republican party had big hopes for the 12th:

Republicans decided weeks ago that this is the kind of district that they'll have to win this year. RNC Political Director Gentry Collins conceded yesterday that this is "exactly the kind of seat that we have to win." Last week, Newt Gingrich said, "This year, we have mobilized millions of people from all over the country, and they are ready to take back this country. It's going to start right here, right now in" Pennsylvania's 12th.

Those hopes were dashed. Critz won. Now...Republicans will rightly point out Critz distanced himself from the party on Obamacare and cap-&-trade and that he was helped by the turnout for the Sestak-Specter race. That's all true. But it doesn't change the fact that in a climate that the GOP has been trying to sell as "deadly" to Democrats, a Democrat won a campaign the GOP threw all their weight behind and in a district that went for McCain in 2008. At the very least, the 12th race is forcing everyone to reevaluate that "wave" election year the Republicans have been touting. Not to mention that the Dems are 7 for 7 on the last 7 special elections (although that trend is liable to end this weekend in Hawaii as the two dem candidates are expected to split the vote in a special election out there allowing the GOP candidate to win).

So what's to take from yesterday's results? The big word of the day is: PURGE. one is talking about bulimia. But one story line you are sure to come across today is that the one thing these elections tell us about both parties is that an "ideological purge" is going on. We agree that there is an ideological purge going on. But to argue that it's going on with both parties is the kind of false equivalence the media does so often that it actually does make us want to throw up.

Let's deal with the Republicans first. There is no question that the established Republicans are worried. We wrote about that last week after Bennett got toasted at the Utah Republican convention.

Yesterday in Kentucky, the national Republican Party backed the wrong candidate in not one but two primaries. NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) conceded that the results were "undoubtedly disappointing." But it wasn't just that they lost, more telling was HOW they lost. McConnell's boy, Trey Grayson, only got 35% of the vote. He didn't even win his won county. In a Louisville House primary, one of the NRCC's designated "Young Guns," Jeff Reetz, couldn't even crack the top two, finishing third with just 17% of the vote. In fact, the major GOP storyline right now is whether or not last night's tiger mauling has passed the Republican Senate leadership from McConnell to SC's own Senator Jim DeMint(ed). DeMint(ed) supported Ron Paul's son, Rand, against McConnell's hand-picked Grayson.

So we don't think there is any question that last night was not only a "L" for the National Republican party, but it was a continuation of the continued ideological purge that has sent Bob Bennett, Charlie Christ, Arlen Specter and others packing from the big tent. And now it may have cost Mitch McConnell his leadership position.

But what about the Democrats? Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, now a Washington Post columnist, has been pushing the idea for weeks that the Dems are undergoing their own "purge."

Last night two centrist Democratic incumbents failed to stave off challenges
from the left in Democratic Senate primaries. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter
was defeated by left-wing challenger Rep. Joe Sestak. And Arkansas Sen. Blanche
Lincoln was forced into a runoff by her left-wing challenger Gov. Bill Halter

But don't hold your breath waiting for commentators to decry
these shameful efforts at the ideological purification of the Democratic party.
When Sen. Bob Bennett is challenged from the right, it is an ideological purge.
But when centrists like Specter and Lincoln are challenged from the left, it's
democracy in action.

The fact that Thiessen compares the challenges Lincoln and Specter faced to the what's going on right now with the Republican party is comical. First off, a guy like Bennett was a reliable Republican for years. The same can not be said for Lincoln being a reliable Democrat. And it's absolutely stupid to compare Specter to anyone, because he's not a Democrat. Neither the result in Lincoln or Specter's primary challenges are the result of the Democratic party moving to the left on them. Rather they are the result of neither being deemed to be reliable Democrats. That's not what is going on with the right. When you've got your Senate minority leader getting bloodied and longtime, reliable party politicians being shown the door, that's a purge.

Thiessen also wants to push the line that Specter was the democratic "establishment" candidate, evidenced by how much President Obama "embraced" Arlen when he switched and all the national support Specter got in the campaign. Exactly what does he think anyone else would have done? It was political tit-for-tat. It was political payback for the switch and help with the stimulus and HCR. Welcome to the real world. But if you don't think national Democrats feel a little more comfortable with Sestak being the candidate against Republican Pat Toomey, you're crazy. Arlen was damaged goods and what you saw was simply people keeping their word. You can take it as a repudiation of the President all you like, but if that was the case, why not vote for the Republican?

All in all, it was a fun night. And November is a long way away.

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