There were clear winners and clear losers in Tuesday’s primaries — and, yes, there was a clear trend. The winners were Democratic insurgents and Republican outsiders.
The losers were incumbents and insiders on both sides — including President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Minority Leader John Boehner. But the biggest loser of all was the notion that the real action this year is on the Republican side of the primary ballot.
In fact, it is all over the ballot. And that offers Democrats, especially progressive Democrats, both causes for concern and roadmaps for the rest of the election cycle. 2010 is shaping up as a year when populist anti-Washington sentiment (with a healthy layer of anti-bank and anti-big business messaging) plays well, no matter what party label is on a candidate.
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Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak’s victory was the “headline” story of the night and it confirmed that Sestak was right when he calculated that Pennsylvania Democrats — who has have been voting against Arlen Specter since 1980, when he was the Republican senator they could never quite oust, would relish an opportunity to do the deed in a Democratic primary.
In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a centrist with conservative and corporate tendencies, also offended the base. She gained more votes than her chief challenger, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who won essential support from organized labor and progressive groups. But Arkansas requires a runoff if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote. Obama will have to keep backing Lincoln and that’s too bad because it pegs him as a president who is more about being a Democrat than about the “change” theme that elected him. But don’t think that Obama was the only D.C. player who got on the wrong side of the voters.
In Kentucky, Rand Paul’s big Republican primary win was a blow to McConnell and the Republican Party establishment. Paul had the support of Tea Party activists, and declared that he had no intention of making nice with the establishment.
This is a volatile year, and neither party is immune. There is clear anger with Washington. It remains to be seen if either party can harness it. There is at least as much volatility on the Democratic side as the Republican side — despite all the Tea Party talk.
– John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine.
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