Posts Tagged ‘Arlen Specter’

Winds of Change

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Well, last night was a good night for people who think the system needs some shaking up.

Congressman and former Admiral Joe Sestak overcame a recent 25% deficit to defeat the party-changing Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania. Specter’s a good guy and he’s had a good career, but changing parties was too clever by half and Pennsylvania Democrats decided that it was time for him to go.

In Kentucky, Rand Paul back-handed Mitch McConnel’s vaunted Kentucky Machine, garnering the largest primary vote total of any Republican in Kentucky history for this office.

Paul comes straight from the Tea Party, but he’s from the libertarian wing of the movement, favoring small government, not focusing on social issues and skeptical of US military adventurism. How this split plays out on the right should be interesting.

On the Democratic side, Jack Conway got the nod, beating perennial loser Daniel Mongiardo. Conway was generally seen as the more progressive of the two candidates and the netroots thinks he could win this thing, but that sounds like a longshot. Still, Paul’s case isn’t helped by the fact that 43% of his opponent Trey Grayson’s supporters said that they would not vote for Paul in the general. 

In Arkansas, netroots favorite Lt. Governor Bill Halter performed significantly better than expected and not only forced conservative Dem Blanche Lincoln into a runoff, but came within a few percentage points of beating her. Many have said that this hurts the Democrats chance in the general election, but most people think that Lincoln is toast no matter what, so we might as well have someone who reflects Democratic values competing for the seat.

Perhaps the most interesting race was Pennsylvania’s 12th District, where longtime John Murtha aide Mark Critz won the special election for the seat that Murtha held for decades by 8 points against Republican Tim Burns. Critz is about as conservative as you can get for a Democrat (pro life, pro gun, anti-health care reform) but won an election in the only district in the country that voted for both John Kerry and John McCain. President Obama has a 35% approval rating in this district, but despite the fact that the Republican’s poured over $1 million into the race and tried to nationalize the election by tying Critz to Obama and Pelosi, they lost an election that, in the end, wasn’t even that close. 

Republican’s are trying to downplay this race, but you know that if they won, they would be trumpeting this as the first wave in a tsunami that will propel them to a majority in the Congress.

What does it all mean? Well, first of all, it means that people are fed up with politics as usual. The outsider candidates won in almost every primary contest. This was perhaps clearest in Pennsylvania, where Ed Rendel’s political machine and President Obama’s tepid support weren’t enough to propel Specter to victory. A few months ago, Sestak’s campaign looked like a fools errand and everyone thought that he should have stayed in the Congress or taken that Secretary of the Navy position that Obama’s White House offered him to stay out of the race.

Paul’s victory seemed just as improbable initially. He’s a doctor with no previous experience in politics and was opposed by Mitch McConnel’s supposedly formidable machine.

Finally, Pennsylvania 12 shows that this year may not be as easy to categorize as it seemed initially. The Democrats have now won 7 out of 7 House special elections and if they can find a way to hold seats in districts where Obama has a 35% approval rating, then they aren’t going to be in as bad a shape as everyone predicted. Congressional Democrats are at historic lows for approval, but the only group less popular is Congressional Republicans. PA 12 proves that you can’t beat somethin’ with nothin’ and it’s not going to be enough for Republicans to just tie Democrats to Nancy Pelosi and Obama.

What this ultimately means for our broken, polarized system is unclear.

But it sure is shaping up to be an interesting year.