Primary night: big wins for outsider candidates
The primaries last night featured one decisive win for a Beltway establishment figure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s big 60-35 victory over Tea Party-backed challenger Matt Bevin in Kentucky. After making some pretty big mistakes on the campaign trail, Bevin pulled 35 percent against a veteran member of the GOP leadership with a super-sized dose of all the usual incumbency advantages, who dramatically outspent him… and McConnell is now locked in a dead heat against his Democrat challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, who herself only managed to draw 75 percent of her party’s support despite having no serious primary opponent. If McConnell doesn’t do a good job of reaching out to Bevin’s supporters and getting them to the polls in November, the Republican bid to retake the Senate could very well falter because the would-be Majority Leader loses his seat. I’ve seen more convincing victories than the one McConnell won last night.
Outside of Kentucky, it was a bad night for the Beltway Establishment, because “outsiders” were celebrating victories everywhere. Oh, no doubt you’ll see a lot of reports today about how the Establishment cleaned the Tea Party’s clock, but all of the winners ran as rock-ribbed conservative outsiders who can’t wait to pop their Wolverine claws and tear the calcified Senate to shreds. I’m not going to sit here and call those victorious candidates liars, so I declare Tuesday night a romp for the Conservative Outsider.
For example, here’s a Fox News summary of the Georgia Senate race, where David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston edged Tea Party-backed Karen Handel out of the July 22 runoff election:
In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday morning, Kingston called Perdue a “moderate flip-flopper,” and himself the “consistent conservative.”
Perdue, speaking to Fox News shortly afterward, said that’s not true and called Kingston a “career politician.” He cast himself as an “outsider” eager to address the country’s debt crisis and economic problems.
[…] Perdue, a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, saw his standing rise in recent weeks due in part to TV ads depicting his four opponents as crying babies who had their chance to fix the nation’s problems. Perdue, who cast himself as an outsider, chipped in at least $2.1 million of his own money to his campaign.
Kingston, a longtime congressman, dominated in fundraising throughout the GOP race and drew support from dozens of state and local officials. Of the three congressmen, Kingston was considered the strongest and received the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly $1 million in TV and online ads promoting him.
Handel also sought to claim the outsider mantle. She built momentum in the final month with the help of a comment by Perdue about her lack of a college degree and endorsements from the likes of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but her lack of money hurt her ability to match Perdue and Kingston in critical TV advertising.
So the consistent conservative outsiders with money and name recognition beat the Tea Party outsider who didn’t have any money. Nothing there for critics of business-as-usual reach-across-the-aisle Republican Party submission to feel bad about! Just wait until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gavels his caucus of crying babies into session in 2015 and finds himself up against a two-fisted outsider like David Perdue or Jack Kingston.
Outsiders won big in Oregon too, where pediatrician Dr. Monica Wehby rode a tidal wave of disgust with ObamaCare – driven by the embarrassing and hideously expensive failure of the state exchange system – to a commanding 23-point victory in the Senate primary over Jason Conger, who voted for the state exchange when he sat in the Oregon House. This was a a messy race, in which both Republican candidates had inspiring backstories – Wehby’s patients adore her, while Conger went from homeless teenager to Harvard Law graduate – but they fought hard over which would be a more effective opponent of ObamaCare. Democrat dirty-tricks operatives barged into the race at the eleventh hour, dumping opposition research to paint Wehby as the deranged stalker of her ex-boyfriend – probably an effort to damage Wehby for the general election, unless the Democrat hit team somehow forgot that Oregon has an aggressive mail-in voting system, making it too late for them to change the outcome of the primary.
Once again, the Oregon winner had an immense financial advantage – nearly eight-to-one – so the most consistent narratives to emerge from Tuesday’s primaries are the unsurprising revelations that (1) knocking off incumbent party leaders is very difficult, and (2) money is extremely useful in a political campaign. One might also observe that Republican voters are even more concerned with choosing highly “electable” candidates than usual; with a real shot at taking the Senate this year, many voters might not feel this is the best time to send “messages” to the Establishment by bumping off strong, well-funded general-election contenders in the primaries.
Besides, what’s the point of making tough-as-nails conservative ronin warriors – the most energetic outsiders to ever take a shot at smashing through the Beltway bubble – suffer for the sins of the Establishment figures who endorsed them? As long as the GOP leadership doesn’t start thinking it can win in November without courting those momentarily disappointed Tea Party voters, everything should work out fine. Unless all these conservative outsiders “go native” when they hit D.C., of course. But what are the odds of that happening?