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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Are Vicious Primaries Hurting the GOP?

A lot of the political chatter of late has sort of assumed that this is the Year of the Elephant, and that the many fractious GOP primaries around the country may well represent a Struggle for the Soul of the Republican Party, but shouldn’t have too much general election impact, particularly if the correct (e.g., less rabid) candidates wind up winning.
But I dunno. Evidence is beginning to accumulate that voters aren’t real crazy about vicious primaries.
Exhibit A is in Calfornia, where the extremely visible (i.e., can’t possibly miss it if you watch television at all) hatefest between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner has been accompanied by a quiet but steady rise in general election polls by Jerry Brown. A PPP survey released yesterday shows Brown ahead of Whitman 48-36, the first double-digit lead either candidate has held in a poll this year. The same survey shows Whitman’s favorable/unfavorable ratio at an unsavory 24-44, and Poizner’s at 19-43 (Brown’s is 37-39), which makes sense in view of what the two GOP candidates have been saying about each other in the 70-80 million dollars in ads they’ve run.
Exhibit B is in Nevada, where the CW until recently was that Harry Reid had become un-reelectable, and the next Senator would be be longtime GOP frontrunner Sue Lowden. Instead, the GOP primary has turned into an increasingly intense three-way fight involving Lowden, the recently surging Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, and Danny Tarkanian. Meanwhile, the left-for-dead Reid has crept back into general-election contention, and actually leads Angle in the latest poll.
In other states, internal GOP fighting could redound to the benefit of Democrats if the “wrong” candidate wins Republican primaries. In the Georgia governor’s race, for example, state insurance commissioner John Oxendine has led every single poll of the GOP race, and seems almost certain to win a runoff spot. But none other than RedState proprietor Erick Erickson, who is a local elected official in Georgia, has said he’d vote for Democrat Roy Barnes if Oxendine is the Republican nominee.
And there’s no telling what sort of general election fallout could be produced by the current saga in the South Carolina governor’s race. If, as has been rumored, a rival Republican campaign is implicated in the allegations of marital infidelity against right-wing favorite Nikki Haley, all hell could break lose.
UPDATE: Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic has had similar thoughts, but with a wrinkle: he argues that the Tea Party movement hasn’t really done much positive for the GOP, and could be helping make previously pro-GOP elections competitive for Democrats.

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