THE FIX: So six Democratic incumbents lost their primaries Tuesday. Did you see this coming?
ANDERSON: It was more than we expected. The majority leader going down is the big one. We knew his race was going to be close, but it's always a bit of a shock when it actually happens, knowing the power of incumbency and the power of leadership in a state legislature. (Anderson reported that the majority leader lost by 17 votes.)
But in context, six incumbents lost Tuesday. There are 113 members of the General Assembly here in Rhode Island, so it's a very small fraction of all the state lawmakers. Most of the incumbents sailed through without a primary.
So it's not like the progressives blasted out everybody and said, "Off with their heads!" It was upheaval in the context of what we usually see.
One of the winners was a former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer. It's tempting to make the comparison between Sanders's political revolution and what happened here. Can we?
I don't see evidence of any kind of political revolution from four progressive candidates winning a primary. I think the Bernie organization helps create excitement and makes it easier to recruit a couple of good progressive candidates who know what they're doing and can take advantage of weaker conservative candidates when they get the opportunity.
Bernie Sanders himself wasn't a part of any of these races, right?
Correct. Bernie Sanders was not campaigning in Rhode Island for these local races.
So if not a Sanders revolution, what were the trends going on here?
There were a couple things going on. One, it's a presidential year, so I think the liberal-conservative dynamic [within the Democratic Party] is heightened. And you had the Bernie phenomenon that was definitely a factor in getting progressives energized and strengthening their organization.
It was also very low turnout, so if you do have good organization and a bunch of really motivated folks, they can do a lot when there are so few votes being cast. These are pretty small, low turnout primaries — we're talking neighborhood dynamics.
And in Rhode Island, there's always scandal or the suggestion of corruption, and these past six months have been filled with a pretty good series of scandals or mini-scandals.
And then, starting off the year, Rhode Island passed the first-in-the-nation truck toll. And that had a lot of people riled up and set off the anti-incumbent sentiment.
So what's the takeaway from progressives' showing Tuesday?
As we head to the general election, the argument will shift to: Were these upsets really the state wanting lawmakers to be more liberal? Or were voters just pissed off at incumbents in general and the progressives took advantage of that?
Republicans will try to take advantage of [what happened] in November and say: "It's not a progressive thing at all, it was an anti-incumbent thing, and in we're going to see Democratic incumbents lose to Republicans." (Democrats control both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly, but Republicans are looking to make gains.)
Progressives will say, "No, it wasn't an anti-incumbent thing; it was a pro-liberal thing, and Republicans are going to lose like they always do."