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What do we know about November?

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Post asked former politicians and political experts what Tuesday's primary results show about the midterm elections. Below, assessments from Newt Gingrich, Mike Lux, Sarah Palin, Robert Shrum, Ed Rogers and Douglas E. Schoen.

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NEWT GINGRICH

Republican speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999; author, most recently, of "To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine"

Tuesday's primaries indicated many things about this election year's political landscape:

-- This may be the year of Republican women: Senate candidate Sharron Angle in Nevada, gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley in South Carolina, gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez in New Mexico, and, in California, gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and Senate candidate Carly Fiorina are harbingers of a dramatic growth in elected Republican women.

-- The Arkansas Democratic Senate runoff indicates that candidates from the left will have a hard time, even in Democratic primaries. Former president Bill Clinton helped incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln get through the runoff. President Obama campaigning for her would have failed. This will be a serious problem for Democrats in the fall.

-- Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's endorsement is very powerful in Republican primaries.

-- Angle joins Rand Paul in proving that the Tea Party movement is making a difference.

-- With a terrible economy, renewed terrorist threats and an Obama-BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, voters may reject smear attacks. Haley gained votes with every personal attack against her. Whitman rebounded dramatically after her GOP opponent launched a wave of attack ads. Republican attack ads failed to protect incumbents in 2006. Harry Reid may be about to experience the same failure of a scorched-earth attack strategy. Bye-bye, Harry.

-- With an Indian American nominee for governor in South Carolina, a Hispanic ticket in New Mexico, a Hispanic nominee for Senate in Florida and the largest number of African American candidates for Congress in GOP history, the Republican Party may be entering a new era of opportunity.

-- The Brown family dynasty in California began in 1950when Pat Brown became attorney general. After 60 years, Californians may be ready for a new leader in Sacramento. If Whitman beats Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, Fiorina will almost certainly beat Sen. Barbara Boxer, and a new era with a competitive California would spell real change for 2012.

MIKE LUX

Co-founder and chief executive of Progressive Strategies; co-founder of OpenLeft.com; special assistant to the president for public liaison from 1993 to 1995

The lesson of Tuesday for my fellow Democrats: You can survive by becoming fiery populists. If Sen. Blanche Lincoln had run a business-as-usual race, even Bill Clinton could not have saved her. Pushing her legislation to regulate financial derivatives changed the dynamics in her race, giving her credibility to claim she is on the side of regular folks against Wall Street speculators.

Democrats take heed: You have just one chance to survive this election without experiencing that sinking feeling those of us in the Clinton White House had in 1994. Both your base voters and your swing voters are mad as hell. They feel like both parties have let them down, that both parties listen more to the special interests that crashed this economy and caused all this pain. They feel like they voted for change in 2006 and 2008 but that the country isn't changing enough.

But if Democrats speak to that anger, show that they will take on the powers that be and make clear that they will be on voters' side, Americans remain open to hearing them out. Democrats can do better in November than anyone thinks they will, just as Lincoln won when everyone was predicting she wouldn't -- but only if they become the kind of populists Lincoln became in the last few weeks of her election.

SARAH PALIN

Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008; former governor of Alaska

The recent primaries make clear that Washington's status quo is turning us off because the politicos are turning us into a country that would ignore its charters of liberty. Americans who understand that deficits and enormous, immoral, unsustainable federal debt steal liberty and opportunity are saying, "Enough is enough. You who have not fought for the people and against Big Government -- you're fired."

The criteria for supporting constitutional, Reaganesque conservative politicians are pretty simple: Do they know how to live within their means, and do they realize it's a sacred trust to be spending other people's money? How do they stack up against an incumbent who supported government control of one-sixth of our economy via Obamacare? Did the incumbent pit him or herself against state officials who warned against accepting Obama's debt-ridden, strings-attached stimulus package? Did he or she disrespect the 10th Amendment and push unfunded mandates on local governments? Do they disrespect America's families by putting us in harm's way, economically and militarily, because of skewed priorities?

If the politicians fit that bill, then they're part of the problem, and so we will hire people who know the solution. That's the message, and our voice will be heard loud and clear at the ballot box in November.

ROBERT SHRUM

Democratic strategist and senior fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service

Last Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) won the Republican Senate primary in Nevada. After the establishment favorite destroyed herself by suggesting a wacky health policy of trading chickens for medical care, a right-wing electorate rushed to Sharron Angle, the Tea Partyer who's for abolishing Social Security, Medicare and the Education Department. She's likely to cost the Republicans a Senate seat they were counting on capturing from Reid.

Similar ideological coups in other primaries have diminished Republicans' midterm chances; instead of energizing the GOP, the Tea Party movement now marginalizes it. Democrats will lose seats in November but fewer than the conventional (un)wisdom assumes -- and they will keep control of both houses.

Blanche Lincoln's surprise victory in Arkansas also tells us that Democrats will do better by identifying with the president than by distancing themselves or by dissing him. After casting a legislatively inconsequential vote against final passage of health reform, Lincoln advertised her earlier support for the measure, ran spots that featured President Obama and brought in Bill Clinton to seal the deal. Clinton is back from his malaprop performance for Hillary in 2008 -- and there he was right after Arkansas in Las Vegas for Harry Reid. Reborn as America's greatest political pitchman, Bill will be on the trail and on message, making a difference for Democrats in November.

Overcaffeinated Republicans will fall off the extreme edge. By the fall, today's uncertain Democrats will notice that Obama's poll ratings are far higher than theirs -- and that he's their strongest running mate. They'll run on health care, not from it. And at rallies, they'll be raising the president's hand in the air -- Obama's and Clinton's.

ED ROGERS

White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of BGR Group

Tuesday's primaries yielded one clear result: None of the fashionable explanations for what drives voters in 2010 is perfect. The far right, the far left and the Tea Partyers are winning a few and losing a few. The only thing we know for sure is that voters are unhappy and are groping to find an outlet for their frustrations.

Part of the reason may be that the economics of 2010 are creating an unusually sharp divide in America. Many voters think that since the economy is bad, the government should create ways to give them more money. On the other hand, many voters think that since the economy is bad, the government should take less of their money. Wherever you are in this debate, you search for the loudest voice that answers your plea. That can be an incumbent, a complete stranger, a classic Republican or an old-school union liberal. This rage about the economy can be especially bad for incumbents, though, because either way you cut it, voters are unhappy with their current economic circumstances.

So we're left with an electorate that is searching and dissatisfied. The parties and their leaders don't appear to be up to the job or willing to shake up the status quo. Voters believe that our old problems are getting worse and that the new ones have exposed incompetence, deceit and selfishness from the government, from business and from the so-called elite in every field.

In Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln, an incumbent, can defeat the full might of well-financed unions; in Kentucky, Rand Paul can defeat an establishment Republican just by appearing reckless and kind of wacky; in California, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina's big money can beat back the GOP right wing. It's a jumbled mix with only the jumble itself as a coherent pattern. Both Democrats and Republicans have been -- and are likely to be -- caught in the cross hairs.

DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

The election results and the poll data that followed Tuesday's elections sent a few very clear messages. Outsiders are in and incumbents are out. The Democrats are heading in the wrong direction. And the greatest asset the Democrats have is . . . the Republicans.

The biggest upset is the victory of Sharron Angle in Nevada. The victory of the Tea Party movement confirms what many have chosen to ignore: the move toward independent, outsider, fiscal conservatives remains strong in America. Both Rand Paul in Kentucky and now Angle start with at least a 50 percent chance of being elected, largely based on grass roots anger toward Democratic spending policies. The trend toward outsiders was also clear in California, where Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina used a similar appeal to win their primaries.

The weird results in South Carolina only underscore the fact that voters are simply suspicious of any insider. Democrat Alvin Greene may not be a credible candidate, but what voters clearly said is that being an insider was simply not credible.

Even Blanche Lincoln's victory in Arkansas has been misinterpreted. By getting close to 49 percent of the vote against an incumbent, Bill Halter sent a message to Democrats about the perils of moving to the center. But, regrettably, the center is where the votes are in the fall election.

Still, the absence of any coherent Republican message other than opposition to Obama gives hope that the Democrats can distance themselves from the White House and do what Mark Critz did in the Pennsylvania special election -- run on fiscal prudence and social moderation -- exactly the message that Bill Clinton championed when he was in the White House and used to carry a beleaguered Blanche Lincoln to victory in the Arkansas primary.


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