Kentucky, Arkansas and Pennsylvania primary results -- Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; 11:00 AM

Post congressional correspondent Paul Kane discussed the primary results in Kentucky, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.


Paul Kane: Good morning, and greetings from Center City Philadelphia. This online chat is being broadcast live from an ING-sponsored cafe at the corner of 17th and Walnut. Nice folks here, good coffee and 2 hours of free WiFi.

Now, on to the matters at hand. Last night. Wow. So much news, in so many places. For what it's worth, I think the biggest surprise to me was Sen. Lincoln's underperformance in Arkansas. I thought I'd seen all the polls putting her around 47-49%, so getting only 45% is pretty dangerous territory.

Now, point of personal privilege here.

I've covered Arlen Specter closely for 13 years now, for 3 different news organizations. He is the ultimate survivor. I've watched him beat all sortsa physical diseases and political demons. I never thought I'd see him go out the way he did last night.

Many people didn't like him, on all sides of politics. He wasn't warm and cuddly. He sure as heck wasn't an empathy politician.

Other reporters I know hailed from Boston and had the distinction of covering Teddy. Some came from New York and had the regal Moynihan and that nice lady who replaced him.

Me, I had Arlen. And it was a blast. Loved every minute of it. He was a uniquely Philadelphia creature.

He'll be missed. On to the questions.



Ottawa Canada: So how soon after the midterms does Obama find a cabinet-level job for Arlen Specter?

Paul Kane: I'm not sure Arlen will want another job. The only job, at this stage, that he really wanted was to be chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 13 months ago, at his party-switching press conference, he admitted that he wanted that gavel. He's 80 now, and, frankly, he doesn't appear to be in good health. He's still fighting Hodgkin's.

For his sake, I hope he just gets a law office in Center City and spends as much free time as possible out in Montgomery County with his grand-children. He's earned it.

PS -- His best political buddy, Ed Rendell, is also out of a job come January. How about a Rendell-Specter law firm? Nah, can't happen. They'd argue too much over who gets top billing.


D.C.: Paul, I know the president usually backs incumbents in order to secure his agenda, but imagine if Obama had shown some real leadership and endorsed Halter and Sestak. Wouldn't he have gained political capital by creating it? Instead the progressive wing of the party once again led candidates to victory over the Party establishment, weakening an already invisible Tim Kaine. So how does this storyline benefit D's come November? That our party is anti- establishment too?

Paul Kane: If he'd endorsed Sestak, Specter never would have switched parties. And then they never would have passed health care, because Arlen would have remained in the GOP primary and would never have been able to back health-care legislation.

Accepting Arlen into the Dem fold -- and endorsing him with a promise of campaign appearances and fund-raising help -- was the price of getting h-care passed.

That was always a long-game move by Rahm, who understood as far back as April 2009 that there was a chance of doing a Dem-only bill.


Rand Paul: Rand Paul needs to work on his speaking style. His victory speech was boring.

Paul Kane: You know, I was in the Specter press center filing room, and we had the TVs on all sortsa things -- the NBA draft lottery, the playoffs, CNN, and then somehow that CBS show with Nurse Hathaway from ER as the lawyer.

Never saw Paul speak.

PS -- How did the Phils lose if Halladay pitched a complete game? Man, that burned when I learned that.


Silver Spring, Md.: Both Democratic candidates got more votes than Rand Paul did last night. Mitch McConnell only won 53 percent last time, and Jim Bunning won with 51 percent. Steve Beshear crushed his Republican opponent in the last governor's race, 59-41 percent.

Discuss (a) Kentucky isn't considered a purple state in non-presidential elections; and (b) why this race shouldn't be considered a toss-up (at worst) for the Democrats.

Paul Kane: (b) It is considered a toss-up. Check the ratings by independent handicappers like Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook.

(a) Kentucky is the sorta border state where they only like to elect their kind of Democrats. The governor is a conservative Dem, and so is the Lt. Gov. Mongiardo. There are some progressives like Yarmuth representing the few liberal areas of Kentucky, but mostly, it's moderate folks like Ben Chandler there. It just doesn't much like liberals. So that makes it next to impossible for national Dems to compete there in presidential cycles.


Washington, D.C.: How did both Dem candidates manage to get more votes than Rand Paul, in supposedly right-leaning Kentucky?

Paul Kane: Cool down on this one, liberals.

It's simple math. There are 550,000 more registered Dems in Kentucky than there are registered Rs. So, back-of-the-envelope math, it appears that each party had a turnout of about 30% last night. Now, make sure to cut and past that link into your browser and examine it closely. This means that there are an awful lot of conservative Dems who almost always vote Republican but just haven't re-registered.

We'll see what happens in November.

_______________________ Voter Registration Statistics Report


Abingdon, Md.: Okay--another group of elections in the book. The matter I'm curious about is Blumenthal: Is he toast now? If so, what do the Dems do? I understand that there are only a couple of days left to get someone else on the ballot.

Paul Kane: Sorry, I'm really AWOL on this story as I've been here in Philly for so long. (Get it? Get it? I wrote AWOL. that's a military term. I'm funny. Right?)

All I can say is, from my read of this, it's a very tough situation for Blumenthal. It's nowhere near as clear cut as the DSCC is trying to make it. There's something really disconcerting about this. We'll now see what comes next. Remember, when Joe Biden got caught, ahem, borrowing Neil Kinock's lines in speeches, it was bad. But then the frenzy began and he got caught inflating his place in Syracuse law, as well as other resume things.

That's now what will happen to Blumenthal. If he doesn't have any other issues like this in his closets, he might weather this storm.

If he does, he will be toast by July 4.


Roseland, N.J.: Even though you have big name incumbents losing or slipping into runoffs, it seems to me the big news, with the most implications for November, is Critz (D) trouncing Burns (R) in the special election for PA-12. For all the talk of the "coming GOP tidal wave," they keep losing actual elections.

Paul Kane: Here are 2 schools of competing thought on PA-12:

1 - Republicans still don't have the right mix of candidates and political infrastructure to take advantage of this environment. Yes, they're going to pick up seats, a lot of them, but somewhere in the 25-30 range, unless they really do raise tens of millions of more dollars for the NRCC.

2 -- This is the worst possible result for the House Dems and Pelosi. They now have their "false-sense-of-security" moment, believing it's not that bad. See, Critz won, we're fine. This is exactly what Republicans did in the spring of '06 when they won a special election to fill the seat of imprisoned Duke Cunningham. In that special, the GOP machine went 1-on-1 against the Dems, flooding the San Diego district with $5 million or more. They swamped the Dem candidate and Rep. Brian Bilbray won. What that special proved was that, going 1-on-1, the Rs were still the far better outfit; then, in the fall, when they had 50 races to defend and the Dems had about 3, they crumbled.

Not sure which of those scenarios I believe.


Kentucky Turnout: I know what you're saying, Paul, regarding the numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats in Kentucky, but if there is this surge to the Tea partiers, you would think some of the Democrats might have re-registered so they could have voted for Rand Paul. That they didn't may have implications for Paul (darn, there's just too many "Pauls" here) in the general election.

Paul Kane: It takes a generation or more for people to re-register. It's like being a member of a church. You really never leave. My father, god bless him, was an FDR Dem. Used the GI Bill to go to La Salle College, saw Tom Gola win the Explorers a national hoops championship, started his own business with 2 of his best friends and went on to happily cast a ballot for JFK. We grew up with busts of Jack AND Bobby in our house.

Then, after the '76 election, abortion took center stage. An ardent Catholic, my father abandoned the Democrats. As best he figures, Bobby Casey Sr. in 1990 was the last Dem he ever voted for.

He didn't switch parties until a couple years ago.


Washington, DC: If Obama loses the 2012 election, will the media still continue to repeat, "It's not a referendum on Obama"?

Paul Kane: Hahahaha.

Nice point.


Specter/Rendell in 2010: Paul,

What is the over/under on Rendell taking a seat at the board for Comcast after he goes back to PHL? And will Specter go quietly in the night, or will he pull a quasi-Jerry Brown and get involved in local/state politics?

Paul Kane: Hmmm, good call on Rendell joining the Comcast. David Cohen -- Rendell's Karl Rove/David Plouffe -- was there at Fast Eddie's side when the gov held an impromptu presser last night.

Cohen is now senior Comcast official.

More to the point: What are the odds that Rendell forces Cohen into letting him and Arlen do a sports-talk show?

Little known fact about Arlen: He is such a die-hard Phillies fan that his staff will jot down the scheduled 1st pitch of Phillies games into his daily schedule. A pocket-sized thing that Arlen inserts into his jacket, the sked will just say Phillies-Cards, 3:10 pm EDT.

Even if Specter is in Pittsburgh that day.


Party Registration: I wonder if anyone has looked to see if the 100K surge of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania in 2008 remain in the Democratic party or if they have switched back to independent or Republican since then.

Paul Kane: According to Rendell, PA Dems maintain a 1.2 million-edge in voter registration. He believes that Sestak can win, calling on a very sharp contrast campaign in which voters are educated a lot about Toomey's record with the Club for Growth.


"Cool down on this one, liberals.": We liberals (whoever we are) have been hearing non-stop about the "intensity gap" from journalists for the better part of a year now.

Tonight offered no evidence to back that up. Agree?

Paul Kane: I'm not sure I get your point. The special in PA-12 was a big win, yes. But the Senate primaries in PA and Ark showed that, no matter what the intensity is, that Dems are every bit as politically divided as Republicans.

And being the party playing so much defense in the fall, that's not a good place to be.


Losing by winning: Paul,

Not only did Lincoln get into a pretty bad fix with the upcoming runoff, due in large part to a 3rd candidate coming from the right, but Mark Critz is more conservative than a Blue Dog, and ran his campaign as a repudiation of the WH (and more about clinging to guns and religion). Now that Obama is 0-4 with candidates that he's come out and supported, will the story about anger against the White House become a larger part of the upcoming primary in California and on to November?

Paul Kane: Ok, a few DC Morrison-Ark questions here in the chat. I don't know much about him, except that he ran as a very conservative Dem. He ran a positive campaign, according to USA Today's Kathy Kiely, who attributed his rise up in the polls not to his policy positions but to his uplifting tone while the other two bashed each other.

I'm not sure where his votes go, except to say, I wouldn't want to be an incumbent with 45% of the vote heading into a run-off. It's not pretty.

The primary in Calif is now a huge, huge deal in terms of the Senate. Because with Blumenthal's troubles in Connecticut, if they can put Calif into play, then Rs can honestly start talking about running the table and picking up 10 seats. I'm not saying it's likely to happen, just that it's possible. And when you have that element of possibility out there, it serves as a serious motivation to the base.

In '06, the drive was for 6 seats, and once George Allen went macaca, the entire Demo base went crazy knowing the 6th seat was now in play.

That's the stakes in Calif.


Lexington, Ky.: In many Kentucky counties, since most people are registered Democrats, all of the important local races take place during the Democratic primaries. If you register as a Republican you can't participate in those decisions. From what people tell me, that's a major reason Kentuckians (especially in rural counties) maintain their Democratic registration, even if they are moderate or conservative.

Paul Kane: A history lesson from on the ground in Ky.



Anonymous: All politics are local, man. We need to be careful to not attribute too much to either party after....well, after all, what the usual result is (mid-term elections usually are better for the party out of power, are they not?)

Paul Kane: Yes, history says Dems should lose 20-25 seats, per the average of midterms in a president's first term.

Nancy Pelosi is well aware of that. In an interview 2 yrs ago, she told me that her 8-year plan for domination only called for "sustaining" the majority in 2010.

She was already bracing for impact more than 2 years out. Smart woman.

But it's impossible to read these election results that have come in and not see a rabble-rousing element to all incumbents.

Paul Kanjorski, a 20-plus-year veteran of PA politics, won his party's nomination with just 49% of the vote last night in northeastern PA.

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K, man.


St Pete, Fla.: Think Specter will campaign for Sestak? Think Sestak WANTS him to?

Paul Kane: Great point. I think at this stage, if I'm Sestak, I do a unity event in the next few weeks, with Rendell, Biden, Specter and everyone they want/need.

Try to get POTUS in for a fundraiser.

And work with the DSCC as much as possible behind closed doors.

Otherwise, run as your own man. That's the path that is proven to work so far in this environment.


Anonymous: Do you know what qualifications Rand Paul has for working in Congress?

Paul Kane: Are his qualifications any different than Al Franken's?

I think not. Welcome to the wonderful, weird world that is the world's greatest deliberative body.


Sometimes, a win is just a win: I'm having trouble believing that any of these elections really mean that much. Specter's loss appears to me to be similar to what happened to Margaret Chase Smith in Maine back in the day. They were old pols who went one election cycle too many.

Ambinder said on CBS that he thought if Critz pulled out a substantial win (which he did) that the pundits ought to change their narrative a bit. I take it that the narrative is going to change from "the country was sleepvoting or drunk when they voted for the Dems and didn't mean it" to "the Democrats might win, but they are going to be too complacent and lose anyway?" Can you imagine any point at which the narrative might become "maybe it's just going to be a regular old mid-term election"?

Paul Kane: The narrative has already shifted since the Scott Brown win. It's no longer just an anti-Dem year. The narrative is now anti-incumbent. Plain and simple.

Folks, in the previous 10 years, only 2 senators were knocked off in party nominating processes: Bob Smith (R-NH) in '02 and Lieberman in '06.

Now, we've had 2 KO'd in 10 days of each other. Lincoln could fall on June 8.

BTW, look out McCain. You're next.


St Peters, Pa.: What a day for PA. Go Flyers! Go Sixers (draft-style)! Seeya, Specter! E-A-G-L-E-S!

Paul Kane: Um, what about the Phillies?


Pennsylvania: What is the buzz about there being no pro-choice liberal in the race for Pennsylvania governor? Some have even suggested Specter could run.

Paul Kane: To clear something up pre-emptively: Specter is done. He can't pull a Lieberman and get into the Senate race or the gov's race.

PA has insanely difficult rules for running as an independent. You have to collect signatures representing 10% of the total # of votes collected by the largest vote getter in the most recent election. So, in 2008, Auditor General Jack Wagner and Obama each took home about 3.5 million votes, meaning anyone wanting to get on the PA ballot needs to collect roughly 350k signatures. That's an gargantuan task that would cost millions of dollars.


Rendell-Specter law firm: How about they go quietly into the darkness so Pennsylvania can evolve. Perhaps a state without old-age pensioners masquerading as public servants.

Now that would be change we can believe in!

Paul Kane: Ah, the age factor.

It's hard to overstate how prevalent this was in the Specter race, as well as the Bennett race in Utah.

Arlen is 80 and has battled multiple illnesses over the last 15 years. It was hard for him to overcome the physical difference between him and Sestak.

They were identical on policy positions, at least in terms of the big issues of the Obama years. (I recognize Arlen's prior voting record doesn't match up.)

But the physicial appearance, that was a stark difference. In this environment, being old is not good.


Anonymous: I don't know Al Franken. My guess from your reply is that he got elected by people just hoping he can do an adequate job. So many of our candidates are not qualified and we are in such a big mess in Congress because of it.

Paul Kane: He got elected with roughly 42% of the vote. It happens every cycle, 1 or 2 people sneak into the Senate who probably don't belong there based on prior credentials. Some rise to the occasion and become great senators. Others shrink from the spotlight and last one term.


And Kinock is still alive!: Unlike Blumenthal. Dead man walking.

Someone should tell him.

Paul Kane: Is Kinock really alive? Who knew. We'll see about Blumenthal. I'm not sure.


Washington, D.C.: When do you expect the special interest groups to kick in to hyper-drive for the elections?

Paul Kane: These groups are clearly flummoxed right now. Almost no one has aired the sort of commercials that the Supreme Court says are now legal -- those that are corporate financed and directly say vote for/against a candidate.

Last night, especially the Critz win in PA-12, further flummoxed those special interests. Who do you bet on to win? Does this mean House Dems will hold the majority now? If so, you don't want to give too much money to the Rs, for fear of Pelosi retribution.

It's a dicey situation.


Sum up Specter: What does Specter get remembered for in his 30-year Senate career?

Paul Kane:

There's the link to the story I wrote last night. It's hard to sum up Arlen. But more than anything, he's a fighter. That's his style. And he's stubborn. That fighting stubborness paid off handsomely ever since he won the Philly DA seat in the mid-'60s. This year, it caught up with him. As I wrote:

In what was probably the final campaign of a storied career, the Republican-turned-Democrat eschewed the conventional wisdom of this election season -- that incumbents were endangered, the electorate angry and restless, experience no longer in vogue. Instead, Specter bragged about his three decades of senatorial seniority and his ability to deliver federal dollars to his state.

"Remember Popeye, who used to say, 'I am what I am'? I don't think anyone could dress me in different attire. I am what I am," Specter told reporters before the polls closed.


Paul Kane: Alright folks, time for me to grab some lunch in Center City and then to head back down I-95 to DC. Thanks for the questions, as always. I'll see you back here in 2 weeks.

- pk

_______________________ Arlen Specter's party switch and subsequent fall (Post, May 18)


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