The state of Indiana has lost a statesman today. Voters went to the polls to unseat incumbent Senator Dick Lugar, who has served in the Senate since 1977, in a low-turnout primary where fewer than 20 percent of eligible voters participated. Lugar was the mayor of Indianapolis prior to his election to the Senate. His service to Indiana is unquestioned, earning him the respect of Republicans, Democrats and independents alike, but that goodwill was not enough to prevent a 22-point loss to a far-right Tea Party challenger.
Lugar’s popularity was so immense that six years ago Democrats did not even bother fielding a challenger in a wave election where the party won control of the U.S. House and Senate. Three of those House seats that Democrats won came from Indiana. Among them was Representative Joe Donnelly, who today won the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in November against the man that defeated Lugar, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
The blowout loss of a high-profile man like Lugar without so much as a scandal – essentially the face of the Republican Party in Indiana for three decades – signifies a remarkable shift to the right among Indiana Republican voters. Lugar is a man of principle, not ideology. Republicans have said today loud and clear that they prefer purity over conviction. It is a rejection of civility and compromise. Mourdock has said that there is “too much” bipartisanship in Washington and has proudly embraced out-of-state special interests. His entire campaign has been vaulted by super PACs that can receive unlimited amounts of money from corporations.
Mourdock’s victory sends a signal to other Republicans in Congress – who are already intransigent enough – that working with the other party on anything is an offense worthy of a primary challenge. This follows a pattern that developed in 2010 where far-right Tea Party candidates defeated more mainstream Republican candidates in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware and Nevada. General election voters punished the GOP for lurching too far to the right. They lost each of those races in 2010. Indiana could be the latest state where the Tea Party costs the GOP a Senate seat.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum accomplished two important wins in the Deep South on Tuesday – one in Alabama and the other in Mississippi – that denied front-runner Mitt Romney the opportunity to finish up the nasty GOP primary fight. While Romney’s aides publicly state that it would take an “act of God” for Santorum to win the nomination, it is actually more plausible than they would have you believe.
With Newt Gingrich’s second place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi – states that he recently said that he must win – his campaign’s path forward it unclear at best. Indeed it would take an act of God for Gingrich to become the Republican nominee. The same cannot be said of Santorum, though, who despite trailing Romney by roughly 200 delegates could quickly catch up to him at the convention. Consider this scenario:
The Republicans enter their convention in Tampa without a candidate holding a clear majority of delegates – a requirement for winning the nomination. The first round of ballots is indecisive. After this point delegates bound to Romney or any other candidate could vote for whomever they please.
Now imagine that Gingrich drops out of the race. Where do his delegates go? Will these conservative, largely Southern delegates go with a former moderate governor from Massachusetts? Highly doubtful, unless Gingrich is enticed by another prize: a slot on the ticket.
This is where Santorum can find a path without entering the convention with a majority of delegates. He wins Gingrich’s endorsement early on, ensuring that his supporters will carry Santorum to victory in places like Texas. Then Santorum cuts a deal with Gingrich giving him a VP slot in exchange for his hundred plus delegates. Adding the delegates won so far by Gingrich and Santorum puts him within striking distance of Romney. Hardly an act of God.
New York Magazine‘s John Heilemann has a great piece this week on the GOP primary race thus far. He writes about the rightward drift of the Republican Party, the struggles that “front-runner” Mitt Romney has had to curry favor with the Tea Party base, and Santorum’s rise as his primary conservative challenger. In Heilemann’s own words:
That Mitt Romney finds himself so imperiled by Rick Santorum—Rick Santorum!—is just the latest in a series of jaw-dropping developments in what has been the most volatile, unpredictable, and just plain wackadoodle Republican-nomination contest ever. Part of the explanation lies in Romney’s lameness as a candidate, in Santorum’s strength, and in the sudden efflorescence of social issues in what was supposed to be an all-economy-all-the-time affair. But even more important have been the seismic changes within the Republican Party.
The schism is very real. The establishment of the Republican Party – comprised of lifelong politicians, Wall Street execs, the Chamber of Commerce and others – usually wins out. Their picks included George H. W. Bush in 88 and 92, Bob Dole in 96, George W. Bush in 00 and 04, and John McCain in 08. Each of them won their primary fights – even after tough challenges for Bush Sr. and John McCain. That may not be the case this year with an insurgent Tea Party. While Rick Santorum is very much a Washington insider – serving in both the House of Representatives and Senate until his defeat in 2006 – he is a nightmare candidate for the establishment due to his ardently conservative views on social issues that will alienate independent voters, but attract the very conservative voters that Mitt Romney needs in order to win the nomination.
Mitt Romney’s win tonight doesn’t say much about what will happen in the rest of the South. North Florida went for Gingrich and is more in line with places like Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. This isn’t just a theory, either. South Carolina already voted for Gingrich over Romney in decisive fashion. The Peach State and its Southern neighbors should prove to be fertile territory in the same way that Romney benefited from New Hampshire’s proximity to Massachusetts. After all, Gingrich calls Georgia home.
South and Central Florida – where Romney did best – are full of transplants from the Northeast. These are the same type of voters that catapulted Romney to the governor’s mansion in Massachusetts. I would expect Gingrich to sweep the South and do well in blue-collar places like Ohio where Romney will come off as an out-of-touch elite.
When Gingrich says that he will go all the way to the convention he means it, especially if Santorum drops out of the race. If you consolidate the anti-Romney vote in a state less hospitable to Romney than Florida then Gingrich has a decent shot at winning quite a few primaries. Romney might have won tonight, but this race is far from over. Expect a conservative backlash against Romney in the primaries to come – especially in the South.
After a moderately tame primary season things are starting to heat up. Newt Gingrich decided to not go negative in Iowa after being nuked with vicious ads from Mitt Romney paid for with secret donors. The result was a stunning reversal of fortunes. Within a matter of weeks Gingrich plummeted from first in the polls to a decidedly weak fourth place finish. Take a look at one of the ads that Gingrich was running before Iowa:
This next ad is running in South Carolina after Gingrich lost in Iowa and New Hampshire:
Of course Gingrich’s ad is softball compared to what George W. Bush did to John McCain in South Carolina during the 2000 Republican primary. McCain was accused of fathering an illegitimate black child and it cost him big time. The Arizona senator lost by 11 points after having pulled off a major New Hampshire upset. Can Gingrich manage to derail Newt with similar negative attack ads? The tightening polls certainly indicate that he could. Of course this time, unlike with McCain, Romney will deserve the verbal beating on television.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota declared on Tuesday that he would not be seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2012. The “rising star” in the Republican Party, as he is often called, would have had a decent shot at winning the party’s nomination. Personally, I had my bets on him. Unlike Palin, Romney, Gingrich and Huckabee, Thune does not have serious political baggage. Unlike Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty, he could credibly call himself a true blood conservative. He’s only served in the Senate for the past six years, so he would have been able to run as an “outsider”. And as superficial as it seems, he’s young and has good looks. All of them a plus.
So why did he decide to forgo a bid in 2012? The groundwork had already been laid for a potential run, he was getting his name out there, and has a passionate base of conservative support. The likely answer is that he saw the writing on the wall: President Obama is likely to win re-election in 2012. With his poll numbers back above 50% in an economy with unemployment still above 9%, it is pretty easy to see that the president’s standing will only further strengthen as the economy continues to improve.
Of course, a lot of things could happen to change the president’s fortunes: unrest in the Middle East could lead to higher gas prices and a double dip recession, Republicans may force a shut down of government if their budget cuts are not signed into law, etc. Still, the betting odds would have to be on the side of the president. A divided Republican Party, a likely Tea Party rebellion in the primaries and a clear field towards the Democratic nomination for Obama mean that he can essentially do what Bush did in 2004, sitting on the sidelines raising money while the Democrats beat each other to a bloody pulp. John Kerry emerged from 2004 with the label of a flip-flopper from Howard Dean supporters and it stuck throughout the campaign. It’s easy to imagine a similar situation occurring in a contested Republican primary, especially with fire-throwing Tea Party candidates.
With Thune out, there are now no sitting senators actively seeking the White House in 2012, a highly unusual situation. In fact, it’s possible that not a single member of Congress runs for president in 2012, unless Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul decide to run. Most of the potential candidates are has-beens: Romney was a one-term governor over four years ago, Gingrich the Speaker of the House during the 1994 Republican Revolution, and Sarah Palin a half-term governor of a small state. The only potential candidate currently holding an actual office is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Not exactly a strong field of candidates. It says a lot when no one on the Republican side seems willing to lose their current job in order to make a run for the most powerful office in the world.
9:10 p.m. (9/15): Lamontagne has conceded the race for the GOP’s Senate nomination. In other news from yesterday’s primaries, a new poll out of Delaware shows that Democrat Chris Coons leads Republican Christine O’Donnell 50-34. That’s a bigger lead than he had in previous polls and may seem to indicate that even some Mike Castle voters are backing Coons.
2:54 p.m. (9/15): Well, it’s the day after the primary. Ayotte has been declared the winner by the Secretary of State in New Hampshire, even though counting continues. Ovide Lamontagne has until 5:00 pm to decide whether he will seek a recount. The margin is 1,500 votes.
1:24 a.m.: Kelly Ayotte’s lead has expanded to over 1,200 votes. It seems that she will eke it out after all. This will be the last post of the night. What an exciting end to the primary season!
1:00 a.m.: The lead has changed in New Hampshire. Kelly Ayotte has pulled ahead of Ovide Lamontagne by 700 votes. Ayotte is winning every county in the state except for the two largest: Rockingham and Hillsborough. Both of these counties are along the Massachusetts border. Ayotte’s strongest counties are along the sparsely populated Vermont border. At the current rate, it appears that she will probably pull it out, but it is still too close to call.
12:50 a.m.: The Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party seems almost complete. Christine O’Donnell’s victory over Mike Castle raises an interesting question: will the Tea Party decide the Republican nominee in 2012? Of course there are many more offices for them to run in as well, but right after the midterms end, the focus will shift to the presidential election. With huge victories across the country inside the Republican Party for Tea Party candidates, directly against the wishes of party leaders, it is reasonable to conclude that the same thing could happen to their presidential nominee. They certainly are not going to nominate another moderate like John McCain. At any rate, Democrats should feel even more confident in their chances of re-electing Barack Obama.
12:30 a.m.: Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Delaware, has released the following statement:
With Christine O’Donnell, we face an ideology rather than a record. One of Sarah Palin’s newest “Mama Grizzlies,” O’Donnell will fight to roll back a woman’s right to choose and lead the charge against stem-cell research, falsely claiming that this ground breaking research exploits women. She has a record of supporting discrimination against gays and lesbians, and pressing for public schools to teach creationism.
Even more shocking is that despite the fact that she has no plan for putting Delawareans back to work and wants to open our coastlines to more dangerous off-shore drilling risks, she truly believes that she’s the right candidate for Delaware.
Make no mistake — Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, Michelle Bachmann, and the Tea Party Express will invest to make sure O’Donnell joins them in Washington. We cannot let Joe Biden’s seat fall into ultraconservative hands – into the grasp of a candidate who is out of touch with Delaware and the challenges we face.
12:28 a.m.: Even the Republican Party is writing off Christine O’Donnell. Fox News reporter Carl Cameron states that the NRSC will not spend any money on the Delaware Senate race.
11:24 p.m.: Here’s a little nugget for the upcoming general election race between Chris Coons and Christine O’Donnell. The Tea Party candidate faces a steep uphill battle against the Democrat according to polling firm PPP. They posted this information on their Twitter feed:
@ppppolls: Only 31% of Delaware voters think Christine O’Donnell is fit to hold public office
@ppppolls: And O’Donnell’s fav/unfav is 29/50
@ppppolls: Castle primary voters supports Coons over O’Donnell 44-28 in general election
The only people in the state that seem to like O’Donnell have just voted for her in the primary. Coons will win almost all Democrats, a substantial number of independents, and a decent amount of Republicans.
11:14 p.m.: Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino has defeated former Congressman Rick Lazio in New York’s GOP primary for governor. With 47 percent of precincts reporting, Paladino leads Lazio 67-33%. All of that fear-mongering over the “9/11 mosque” didn’t help Lazio one bit.
11:00 p.m.: Here’s an update from New Hampshire. Tea Party candidate Ovide Lamontagne’s lead is down to just 5 points after initially leading by about 20 points when the night began. In raw votes, the difference is only 2,000 with many left to be uncounted. Not all of Lamontagne’s lead is shifting to Ayotte, though. Binnie has seen a 4 percent rise in the past few hours and Bender a little over 1 percent. Their votes may very well play spoiler.
9:49 p.m.: Here are the final results from Delaware. Let the civil war in the Delaware GOP begin.
Mike Castle – 46.9% (27,021)
Christine O’Donnell – 53.1% (30,561)
100% of precincts reporting
It’s hard to see how Castle’s voters could turn around and vote for O’Donnell in November. Given the swift negative turn that this campaign took and the vicious nature of the attacks, these wounds are not going to heal in a little over a month’s time. Election day is fast approaching and this primary will be fresh on the minds of Castle’s supporters. Expect Democratic nominee Chris Coons to have a field day with the material that the Republican Party used against O’Donnell.
9:25 p.m.: Pundits will begin to question how it was possible for Mike Castle to lose this race against a woman that is currently unemployed and has no experience. Look no further than last year’s town hall meeting where a constituent confronted him over President Obama’s birth certificate. The Republican Party has moved to the far right extreme, even in traditionally Democratic states like Delaware. This should be a wakeup call for national Republicans. They may have a good year yet in 2010, but long-term, this is not the foundation you want to build your party on. Watch the video below:
9:16 p.m.: The AP has reported that Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell will be the winner in the Delaware GOP Senate primary against Mike Castle. That makes her the 8th Tea Party candidate to defeat mainstream Republicans in Senate primaries across the country. In my updated Election Projection later tonight, Delaware will move into the Likely Democrat column.
9:11 p.m.: The numbers are going in the right direction for the Congressman, but with over 3/4 of the vote already counted, Mike Castle is quickly running out of time to gain on Christine O’Donnell. Her lead is nearly 4,000 votes.
Mike Castle – 46.1% (21,683)
Christine O’Donnell – 53.9% (25,331)
77.5% of precincts reporting
In New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte is losing her home county of Hillsborough 54-31 with over a quarter of precincts reporting. The race is slightly closer statewide, but still a blowout at this point in time.
8:36 p.m.: Updated numbers out of Delaware show O’Donnell maintaining her roughly ten point lead over Congressman Mike Castle with 13.8 percent of precincts now in. The numbers in New Hampshire remain unchanged.
Mike Castle – 45.3% (3,378)
Christine O’Donnell – 54.7% (4,081)
13.8% of precincts reporting
8:28 p.m.: The first results are in out of Delaware and it’s not looking good for Mike Castle:
Mike Castle – 43.7% (769)
Christine O’Donnell – 56.3% (991)
4% of precincts reporting
8:13 p.m.: Tonight is a big night in determining whether Republicans will even have a chance at winning the Senate this fall. In order to do so, they need to hold their Senate seat in New Hampshire and pick-up Joe Biden’s former Senate seat in Delaware. Both seats were seen as leaning towards the GOP, but that goes into doubt if Tea Party candidates win. Below are early results from these two states.
Today is primary day in several states across the nation. Among them are two highly important Senate primaries in Delaware and New Hampshire. Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell led the more moderate Mike Castle in the most recent polling out of the state, 47 to 44, although it was within the margin of error. This is a meteoric fall for Castle, who just a few months ago was seen as a shoe-in for the seat. Castle led his Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, by double digits. O’Donnell trailed Coons by double digits and appears likely to lose the race in November if she wins tonight. Polling places close at 8 p.m. Eastern Time in Delaware and since it is a small state, results should not take very long to come in.
A similar situation could happen in New Hampshire where the state’s Attorney General, Kelly Ayotte, is in a tight four-way race to win the nomination for Senate in the seat held by retiring Republican Senator Judd Gregg. Like Castle, Ayotte was seen as a favorite of winning both the primary and the general election (although one could argue that Castle is a stronger general election candidate, given his 30 years of winning statewide races). Magellan Strategies released a poll just yesterday with Ayotte’s lead slipping to just four points: 35% – 31%. Tea Party candidate Ovide Lamontagne jumped from being in the teens to now in the low 30s. The momentum is clearly on his side and could very well pull the upset. KyleBell.com will have complete results and a recap of today’s events once the numbers begin coming in.
Joe Miller, a political unknown supported by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, is leading Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s Republican Senate primary by 3 points. With 84 percent of precincts reporting, Miller is ahead with 51.45% (45,188 votes) to Murkowski’s 48.55% (42,633 votes). While Miller is on-track to defeating Murkowski, the race remains undecided until some 16,000 absentee ballots are counted.
Miller credited the support of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for his possible upset. “I’m absolutely certain that was pivotal,” he said. Not surprisingly, Senator Murkowski had a different take on Palin’s support for her opponent. “I think she’s out for her own self-interest. I don’t think she’s out for Alaska’s interest,” Murkowski said.
Senator Murkowski and Sarah Palin have a history of conflict. In 2006, Palin resoundingly defeated Murkowski’s father in the GOP primary for governor. Frank Murkowski came in third place during that primary and received only 19 percent of the vote. Coincidentally, he had appointed his daughter to the Senate seat that he left empty upon assuming the governor’s office in 2002.
If Miller pulls off the victory, he could put this seat into play for the Democrats. Murkowski was seen as a safe choice, but with a far-right political unknown taking the Republican Party’s nomination, it is possible that Democrats could make this race competitive. It was only two years ago that Mark Begich defeated incumbent Senator Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican member at the time.