If there is one predominant theme from “Super Super Tuesday”, it’s that while incumbents are down, they’re certainly not out.
The night’s results early on saw 12 year Congressional incumbent Bob Inglis (R-South Carolina) badly trailing in his primary 28-39% – at this point, we question whether he would even bother competing in the June 22 runoff. Over in South Dakota, Secretary of State Chris Nelson’s attempt to get the blessing of the state’s GOP voters for the state’s at large House seat was rejected 42-35% by state representative/rancher Kristi Noem, who was labeled by some as “South Dakota’s Sarah Palin.” In California, defeated former incumbent Richard Pombo attempted a comeback by moving to a different district centered on Fresno and bragging to potential constituents about the clout he once had. Voters were unimpressed, and he ran a distant third with 20%. Finally, the night also saw the first defeat of this election season of an incumbent governor, as Jim Gibbons (R-Nevada) was humiliated 27-56% in his own primary against Brian Sandoval, who was a federal judge and former Attorney General of Nevada.
Despite the upsets and/or defeats noted above, incumbents and/or establishment candidates also survived and, in some cases, thrived. In Virginia, candidates preferred by the GOP establishment defeated Tea Party backed challengers in two House seats Democrats won in 2008 due to Barack Obama’s coattails. GOP incumbents in New Jersey also were re-elected with margins between 56 and 78% of the vote despite Tea Party opposition. Furthermore, there was a “Back To The Future” quality to some of tonight’s gubernatorial primary victories, as former Governor Terry Branstad (R-Iowa) was victorious in his primary by a 50-41% margin, and Calfornia Democrats easily nominated Jerry Brown as their party’s standard bearer (Curiously, these two Governors seeking their old jobs may also be joined by the former Governors of Oregon and Georgia, who are similarly seeking a comeback). Finally, the biggest win for the establishment tonight was the survival in the Democratic runoff of Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Despite a tepid 45-43% lead in the primary and runoff polls showing her trailing her labor backed opponent, she eked out a 52-48% win based on (1) a strong vote out of Little Rock, (2) resentment at the “over the top” influence of organized labor, and (3) campaign help from former President Bill Clinton, who warned Arkansas voters about their being used by those seeking party purity. The Clinton endorsement, incidentally, also helped former Congressional staffer Chad Causey eke out a 51% runoff victory in northeast Arkansas over a Democrat some feared would “pull a Parker Griffith” and switch parties after getting elected.
Another theme of tonight’s primaries was the volume of female candidates from either party who will be on the general election ballot. In addition to the races in Arkansas and South Dakota mentioned above, South Carolina state representative Nikki Haley (who is of Indian descent) benefitted from a backlash against racial slurs used (she was referred to as a “raghead”) and unproven allegations that she had extramarital affairs and led in the GOP primary 49-22% over Congressmen Gresham Barrett. The word on the street is that the Republican Governor’s Association will attempt to pressure Barrett to withdraw, and it doesn’t help Rep. Barrett that his TARP vote was greeted with boos when he attempted to address a recent Tea Party rally. An open House seat in Little Rock, Arkansas will also see a black female, Senate Majority Leader Joyce Elliott, as the Democratic nominee, despite her opponent’s attempts to describe her as being unelectable because of her ”extreme views” on issues. Over in Nevada, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle will be the Republican nominee against 24 year Senate (and 4 year House) incumbent Harry Reid. Finally, in California, the Republicans can proudly say that this is their “Year of the Woman”, as well financed female executives Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman are overwhelming their primary opponents in the races for Senator and Governor, respectively.