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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Coast to Coast

For those of us in the politics biz, last night was a long night, with returns trickling out over a eight hour period. Despite the best efforts of headline writers to impose some order on the ten primaries, one runoff, and one special election runoff, there was no overriding pattern or big theme to these elections: just a lot of individual contests whose importance we mostly won’t even know until November. I won’t try to cover everything that happened; you can consult news sources for detailed results. But there were some pretty interesting happenings.
The biggest surprise for the chattering classes (and I’ll plead innocence on this one, since I consistently labeled it as too close to call) was the survival of Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, whose dominant performance in Pulaski County (Little Rock), her opponent’s home base, was crucial. The heavy commitment of resources by the labor movement on behalf of Bill Halter will be second-guessed for quite some time. And once again, it’s been established that you don’t mess with Bill Clinton in his old stomping grounds.
Probably the second biggest story of the night was Nikki Haley, who came within an eyelash of winning the SC Republican gubernatorial nomination without a runoff. Congressman Gresham Barrett finished a distant second, and is already getting pressure to drop out save the GOP the trouble of a runoff. It’s clear in retrospect that the maelstrom of the last two weeks, in which Haley was hit with two separate poorly documented allegations of marital infidelity, gave her a significant sympathy vote and all but extinguished the ability of her opponents to get any kind of message out. Meanwhile, state rep. Vincent Sheheen scored an impressive majority win in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and can now spend his time raising money and watching future developments, if any, in the Haley saga.
The third biggest story of the night was in Nevada, where the easy victory of Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle in the Republican Senate primary gave Harry Reid the matchup he wanted for November. Angle benefitted from the implosion of long-time front-runner Sue Lowden, and from national conservative support. Third-place finisher Danny Tarkanian faded in the clutch even more than Lowden.
Speaking of the Tea Folk, their movement had a very mixed evening. Establishment Republican candidates turned back Tea Party-affiliated challengers in Virginia and New Jersey. But in SC, congressman Bob Inglis, who made the mistake of voting for TARP, was knocked into a runoff by local DA Trey Gowdy, and will be the heavy underdog going forward.
One result with significant 2012 implications was in Iowa, where as expected, former Gov. Terry Branstad beat conservative firebrand Bob Vander Plaats for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. But given his many advantages in the race, Branstad’s 9-point margin of victory was underwhelming, and should warn potential presidential candidates that the social conservative forces represented by Vander Plaats could be more formidable than ever in the 2012 caucuses. Certainly Sarah Palin, whose late endorsement of Branstad enraged some of her Iowa fans, will need to do some repair work if she’s interested in entering the contest that will begin in Iowa.
And finally, in a result that got virtually no national attention but that could prove important down the road, California voters approved Proposition 14, which abolishes party primaries in favor of a “jungle primary” in which the top two finishers, regardless of political affiliation, meet in a runoff if no candidate wins 50%.

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