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August 9, 2006

Finding meaning in Tuesday's primary results

Posted by David Postman at 10:09 AM

As with any good pundit and political reporter this morning I'm trying to figure out the broader implications of the big campaign news of the day: The loss by an incumbent in a primary election who had been painted so far out of step with his party he was made to look like all but a traitor to the cause. And today the results have some wondering whether it signals a major split in the party that could have fallout across the country.

I'm talking about the Michigan Congressional race where Republican Rep. Joe Schwarz was defeated yesterday by Tim Walberg, a former Republican
state legislator. Walberg painted Schwarz as a big-spending liberal and attacked him for his support of abortion rights.

Schwarz was endorsed by President George Bush and Sen. John McCain. But Walberg was backed by the anti-abortion groups and the Club for Growth. In fact, this was the first primary win ever against an incumbent by a candidate backed by the Club for Growth, a conservative, anti-tax group, that targets GOP members they call RINOs, Republicans in name only.

The Associated Press reported "the implications could reach far beyond the borders of the rural southern Michigan district." Schwarz was reported as saying:

"I look at this election as probably a victory for right to life, anti-abortion, anti-embryonic stem cell groups but it's a net loss for the Republican party because it just pushes the party farther to the right."

Of course most of the attention today is on another primary, Tuesday's Democratic vote in Connecticut that saw liberal businessman Ned Lamont defeat Sen. Joe Lieberman in a campaign largely focused on Lieberman's support of the Iraq war.

It's that race that Republicans want to define the 2006 mid-term elections. In the coming days you can be sure that Republicans will be describing Democratic candidates as the "The Ned Lamont of (your state here.)"

This morning Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman gave a speech to the City Club of Cleveland. He was there to give a boost to Sen. Mike DeWine, who is facing a tough challenge from Rep. Sherrod Brown. Mehlman talked a lot about the results in Connecticut's Democratic primary:

"Why is this relevant in Ohio?

"Because right here, the Democratic Party has chosen to nominate for Senate a leading proponent of the isolationist, defeatist, blame America first philosophy.

"Sherrod Brown is Ohio's answer to Ned Lamont."

Mehlman is spinning Lieberman's loss as evidence — proof, really — that "defeatism and isolationism are now Democratic Party orthodoxy." He describes the Connecticut primary as a major turning point for Democrats. He seems so nostalgic for the old Democratic Party — the pre-Tuesday Democratic Party — one wonders what he ever found to criticize Democrats about before Lamont's victory.

I can't imagine that this will play a significant role in Washington state races. I'm sure Hong Tran hopes it does, but her long-shot campaign against Maria Cantwell is likely not in a position to capitalize on the Lieberman defeat.

Republicans here will spread the Mehlman gospel and play up divisions on the war we've already seen among state Democrats. Anyone want to take bets on how long before we see a GOP-penned line that includes mention of Lamont and Dwight Pelz?

In Cleveland this morning — according to excerpts of the speech the RNC sent me — Mehlman contrasted Democrats as the party of exclusion with the Republicans and their "commitment to a big-tent Party, where independent voices like Mike DeWine, Ken Blackwell, and George Voinovich are welcomed."

Joe Schwarz? Not so much.

UPDATE: Even if Republicans are successful in making the Lamont victory a declaration that the Democratic Party is now the anti-war party, I'm not sure how that will play with the electorate.

This from CNN today:

Sixty percent of Americans oppose the U.S. war in Iraq, the highest number since polling on the subject began with the commencement of the war in March 2003, according to poll results and trends released Wednesday.

And a majority of poll respondents said they would support the withdrawal of at least some U.S. troops by the end of the year, according to results from the Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted last week on behalf of CNN. The corporation polled 1,047 adult Americans by telephone.

I don't think Democrats have yet settled on what the Connecticut results will mean. But this is the best quote I've seen:

"This shows what blind loyalty to George Bush and being his love child means," said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the leader of the Democratic House Congressional campaign. "This is not about the war. It's blind loyalty to Bush."

UPDATE: Cantwell endorses Lamont: "I congratulate Ned Lamont on his victory last night. I respect the decision of the Connecticut Democrats in choosing their nominee and I will support him."

UPDATE: Mike McGavick says he plans to not only endorse Lieberman in his independent campaign against Lamont, but will donate money to the effort:

"I don't agree with Sen. Lieberman on most issues. But as the Senator said in his concession speech last night, it's time for our elected leaders to stop playing political games so that we can get things done for this country. Senator Lieberman's message of independence and bi-partisanship is right for our country."

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