Gizzi on Politics: Primary Night

Almost all the national media last week were focused on Connecticut, where embattled Sen. Joe Lieberman was trying to survive a purge attempt by anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont. But there were other major returns elsewhere. Among them. . .

Giant Michigan Rummy

To no one’s surprise, Conservative Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard rolled up more than 60% of the vote in the Republican Senate primary in Michigan. Bouchard, a former state senator, topped the race. His leading opponent was the Rev. Keith Butler (38%), former Detroit city councilman and pastor of an African-American megachurch. Conservatives were heartened that in a state whose Republican Party has long been owned by moderates, both Bouchard and Butler were strong conservatives who agreed on almost every issue. Their gentlemanly contest, like the election last year of stalwart conservative Saul Anuzis as state party chairman, is a sign that, in Bob Dylan’s words, “The times, they are a-changing.”

Bouchard now faces liberal Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 11%), who won by less than 2% of the vote in 2000. Butler also has a good future, Water Wonderland conservatives say, and many are already booming him as their state’s GOP national committeeman in ’08.

The only major U.S. House primary of note in Michigan was in the 7th District (Battle Creek), where moderate Republican Rep. Joe Schwarz went down to a conservative primary challenger by 53% to 44%. Schwarz, who two years ago topped a primary field of five more conservative foes with 28% of the vote, last week went mano a mano with one of those opponents, former state legislator Tim Walberg. A Protestant pastor, Walberg slammed the incumbent for his pro-abortion stand, his support of a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants and his opposition to a federal marriage amendment.

A good portion of Walberg’s campaign kitty came from outside of the district and was raised by the conservative Club for Growth—a surprising move, since the club usually stands with fiscal conservatives and shies away from conservatives identified closely with social issues and a hard-line on immigration, and Schwarz had an 80% voting record from the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC).

Say Goodnight, Cynthia

For the second time in four years, voters in Georgia’s 4th District (Atlanta) got fed up with the antics of Rep. Cynthia McKinney. The first black woman to represent the Peach State in Congress lost a run-off to attorney Hank Johnson, a former DeKalb County commissioner, by a 59%-to-41% margin.

Initially elected to Congress in 1992, McKinney came under fire in 2002 for her appearances with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and her refusal to vote for a House resolution condemning his statements about Jews and also for her suggestion that George W. Bush knew about 9-11 before the attack occurred. Beaten that year by fellow Democrat Denise Majette (the real reason was “J-E-W-S,” according to McKinney’s father Billy), McKinney got a second chance and returned to Congress in ’04 when Majette ran unsuccessfully for the Senate. Earlier this year, McKinney again made national news by striking a Capitol policeman who did not recognize her and attempted to stop her from entering the House offices. McKinney later apologized for the incident, but the folks back home had clearly had enough of her antics.

Rocky Picture Show

For Republicans, there was no horror in this picture show from the Rockies. Rep. Bob Beauprez (lifetime ACU rating: 90%) was unopposed for the Republican nomination for governor to succeed lame-duck GOPer Bill Owens. Beauprez’s nomination was ensured when University of Denver President Marc Holtzman was disqualified from the primary ballot for failing to file the proper number of valid signatures on petitions. Beauprez is expected to face a tight race in the fall from Democrat Bill Ritter, the Denver district attorney.

Beauprez’s exit from the 7th District (suburban Denver) paves the way for what is sure to be one of the closest House races in the country. Conservative Republican Rick O’Donnell, a former member of Gov. Owens’ Cabinet, will square off against former State Sen. Ed Perlmutter, a self-styled “Democrat’s Democrat.” Perlmutter defeated the more moderate Peggy Lamm, former state legislator and onetime sister-in-law of former Democratic Gov. (1974-86) Richard Lamm.

The 5th District (Colorado Springs), held since 1986 by retiring GOP Rep. Joel Hefley, should almost certainly remain in Republican hands. The winner of the six-candidate GOP primary was State Sen. Doug Lamborn, a strong conservative. Lamborn had 27% of the vote, edging out former Hefley staffer Jeff Crank by little more than 1,400 votes. The House Conservatives Fund, the political action committee of the House Republican Study Committee, weighed in for Lamborn, founder of the Colorado Republican Study Committee. Lamborn formerly held the same seat in the state house of representatives once held by the last three Republican U.S. congressmen in their state legislative days: Hefley, Ken Kramer (1978-86), and Bill Armstrong (1972-78).

Tennessee Waltz

Coalitions for America leader Paul Weyrich and I have had numerous discussions about the “we divide-they conquer” problem, which arises when conservatives don’t defer to one another in primaries, divide up their common base, and let a moderate win the nomination. The recent Republican primary for the seat of retiring Sen. Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) was, Weyrich told me, “a perfect example” of this. Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, a moderate who spent more than $1 million of his own money, won 48% of the vote over two conservative former U.S. House members, Ed Bryant (35%) and Van Hilleary (16%), who voted almost identically in Congress.

Corker had run in the ’94 primary against Frist on a pro-abortion platform, but now insists he is pro-life. Moreover, he served as commissioner of administration under former Republican Gov. (1994-2002) Don Sundquist, who upset conservatives with his attempt to enact a state income tax. Corker is now the fall favorite over Democratic Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., keynoter of the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Despite an overall liberal record, (lifetime ACU rating: 19%), Ford has taken a few walks from the left-leaning party line by, for example, supporting tough border security measures and the federal marriage amendment.

In the 9th District (Memphis), which has been held since 1974 by Ford and his namesake father before him, the Ford family finally ran out of gas. State legislator Joseph Ford, cousin of Harold, placed third in the 15-candidate Democratic primary with 12% of the vote. The winner was fellow state legislator Steve Cohen (31%), who is almost guaranteed election in the fall and will thus be one of the few white lawmakers ever to have represented a district that is majority black.

The other open House district in the Volunteer State is the 1st, where 13 Republicans were vying for nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Bill Jenkins. Topping the field was State Rep. David Davis of Johnson City, who was a vocal pro-lifer and a leader in the successful effort to stop Gov. Sundquist’s proposed income tax. Davis’s election in the fall is a slam-dunk, given the 1st District’s record of having no Democratic congressman for more than a century.