Can the party establishment deliver in Tuesday’s primaries?
Senate primaries in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina on Tuesday should give us a good indication of how much power each party’s establishment still retains over its own voters.
In each race, the national parties have either overtly or somewhat subtly made clear which of the candidates they would prefer to be their nominee. But, in each there has been some restlessness within the party base about that choice.
The most obvious example is in Indiana where former Sen. Dan Coats was recruited into the contest by national Republicans but has struggled badly to consolidate his frontrunner status. Coats’ saving grace may well be that grassroots conservatives appear to be splitting their votes between former Rep. John Hostettler and state Sen. Marlin Stutzman who recently won the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
Less publicized but no less interesting for what they will tell us about the mood of the electorate are Democratic primary contests in Ohio and North Carolina.
In the Buckeye State, state and national Democratic leaders lined up behind Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in his primary fight against Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Fisher’s campaign has been something short of stellar and the primary remained remarkably close for months — although Fisher’s ad campaign seems likely to deliver him the nomination.
Down in North Carolina, national Democrats spent weeks recruiting former state Sen. Cal Cunningham into the race under the belief that neither Secretary of State Elaine Marshall nor attorney Ken Lewis could beat Sen. Richard Burr in the fall. Cunningham began the race as a virtual unknown, however, and his fundraising has not been particularly good, raising the possibility that Marshall could win without a runoff on Tuesday.
If Coats, Fisher and Cunningham all wind up as their respective parties’ nominees, it’s worth re-examining the idea that the establishment wings of both parties will be upended this summer and fall. If two (or even all three) lose — and that seems unlikely — then there will be a genuine panic among party insiders.
As always, the number one ranked race is the most likely to switch sides. Agree? Disagree? Comments. Open. Business.
To the Line!
10 (tie). Florida (Republican controlled): Gov. Charlie Crist’s independent candidacy gives Democrats a real chance at a seat that seemed like a lost cause as recently as last month. The longer Crist stays credible, the better for the Democratic nominee — who is likely to be Rep. Kendrick Meek but might be free-spending real estate developer Jeff Greene. Ultimately, Meek’s fate likely depends on how much (or little) money the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is willing to spend in the state. (Previous ranking: N/A)
10 (tie). Missouri (R): Secretary of State Robin Carnahan may be the best Democratic Senate challenger in the country. And, Rep. Roy Blunt (R) has real problems related to his time in the House Republican leadership and his familial lobbying ties. But, Missouri was the only 2008 swing state that went for John McCain, suggesting that the state leans Republican. (Previous ranking: 10)
9. New Hampshire (R): For all the negative attention she has received inside the Beltway for her sluggish campaign, former Secretary of State Kelly Ayotte (R) isn’t seeing any diminution in her support in the Granite State. A recent Granite State/WMUR poll put her 15 points ahead of Rep. Paul Hodes (D). Ayotte still has to survive a September primary challenge from wealthy businessman Bill Binnie but she appears to be stronger than commonly thought in Washington. (Previous ranking: 7)
8. Colorado (Democratic controlled): Democrats have to be happy about how this race has played out over the past month. Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck, a conservative favorite, has put former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton on her heels in the Republican primary while former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff continues to struggle to raise enough money to be viable in his August primary race against appointed Sen. Michael Bennet. (Previous ranking: 6)
7. Pennsylvania (D): At the moment, it looks like party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter will win the May 18 primary against Rep. Joe Sestak but the last few weeks of the campaign are going to get ugly. Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) has run a picture-perfect campaign to date, raising gobs of money and doing everything he can to move to the political middle. Republicans are secretly hoping Specter winds up as the nominee since they think he typifies everything voters don’t like about politics these days. (Previous ranking: 9)
6. Indiana (D): Former Sen. Dan Coats will likely win the GOP nomination on Tuesday but his primary campaign hasn’t exactly been a confidence-inspiring effort for Republicans. Coats has seemed somewhat out of his depth — watching as national Democrats stepped all over his decision to run and then not coming close to raising the sort of money that was expected out of him. Rep. Brad Ellsworth gets rave reviews from Democrats but it will be interesting to see how he wears in a statewide campaign. (Previous ranking: 5)
5. Illinois (D): The failure of the family bank of state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) is hugely problematic in this sort of political environment. Giannoulias has — smartly — spent the last week on offense, attacking Rep. Mark Kirk (R) for his ties to Goldman Sachs and Wall Street. The question that remains, however, is whether Giannoulias can withstand a sustained television onslaught from national Republicans that drags all of the details of the bank’s failure (and his role as a senior loan officer) into the light. (Previous ranking: 8)
4. Nevada (D): Just when former state party chairwoman Sue Lowden looked like she was rising above the decidedly weak Republican field, she suggested in a debate that the best health care plan would be a barter system between patient and doctor. After an initial swirl of controversy, Lowden doubled down on those remarks — hearkening back to olden times when people brought a chicken to the doctor in exchange for care. Um, what? It may not matter ultimately because polling continues to show that voters are ready to replace Sen. Harry Reid (D) with almost anyone. (Previous ranking: 4)
3. Arkansas (D): Both parties are playing host to interesting and competitive primaries on May 18. Until we know the identities of the two parties’ nominees handicapping this race is somewhat difficult. But, a recent Research 2000 poll for the liberal Daily Kos blog suggested that no matter whether Sen. Blanche Lincoln or Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is the Democratic nominee ,Republicans likely start out with the edge in the Razorback State. (Previous ranking: 3)
2. Delaware (D): Democrats are optimistic about New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D). And, if Republicans had nominated anyone other than the popular, moderate Rep. Mike Castle this would have been a nip and tuck race. As it is, the burden of proof that this will be a competitive contest still rests very much on Coons. (Previous ranking: 2)
1. North Dakota (D): Sen. John Hoeven. (Previous ranking: 1)
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