article

06.08.10

Women Rule Primary Night

Wins for outsiders Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, centrist Blanche Lincoln, and Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle—plus a runoff for Nikki Haley—are a clear sign of voter desire to shake up the good old boy network.

Voters in 12 states expressed their anger with Washington and special interests Tuesday night by defeating a $10 million union campaign to unseat a senator who had the courage to stand up against their special interest legislation, promoting women outsiders who have run public companies but never held office, and supporting candidates aligned with Tea Party values.

And as clear evidence of voter desire to the shake up the good old boy network in politics, women ruled the night.

The public’s frustration has reached the boiling point: 67 on a 100-point index. Just 27 percent believe Congress knows what it’s doing when it comes to the economy. And the number who approve of their own representatives has fallen below 50 percent for the first time since 1994.

While Congress dined on smoked salmon with President Obama and the first lady at a picnic on the South Lawn on Tuesday evening, the voters spoke. The message is clear. The party is over.

The clear message from voters Tuesday night: “establishment and special interests beware” and “we demand to be heard.”

In the runoff election in Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), in office since 1998, ran against and beat more than just her opponent, fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. She also ran against a powerful, well-funded special-interest group. In the three weeks since the May 18 primary, organized labor spent more than $10 million against Lincoln, a moderate who dared to oppose union’s pet issue card check legislation.

Peter Beinart: The GOP Is Blowing It

Dayo Olopade: The Female Obama Wins in CA
An unlikely union-buster, Lincoln-supporter former President Bill Clinton, warned against their influence on the race: “This is about using you and manipulating your votes. If you want to be Arkansas’ advocate, vote for somebody who will fight for you.”

Lincoln is an example of a moderate Democrat who appeals to centrists. She has been a remarkably effective legislator, achieving ranking status on committees important to Arkansas like agriculture and governing from the center. Lincoln took a courageous and principled stand opposing card check and almost paid for it with a union-backed primary opponent.

This is the second huge setback for union-backed Senate candidates in the last few weeks, the first being Arlen Specter. As Rich Lowry said on Fox News, “If you’re gonna buy a race, you ought to win it.” Or as a White House official said to Politico: “Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise. If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.” Youch.

Lincoln ran a great campaign and dodged the incumbent curse—so far. But her narrow victory may matter little in the general election. Rep. John Boozman, the GOP candidate, polls ahead by double digits. But don’t count Lincoln out. If it’s possible to win this year in Arkansas as a Democrat, and it may not be, Lincoln’s the one to do it.

In the U.S. Senate race in California, Sen. “Don’t Call Me Ma’am” Barbara Boxer (D), a liberal stalwart in power since 1992, is the incumbent targeted by the only woman ever to lead a Fortune 20 company, Republican primary victor Carly Fiorina.

Echoing voters’ frustration, Fiorina told supporters Monday: “Everywhere I go, I meet Democrats, independents, Republicans who have one thing in common—everybody has had enough. Enough of a government that is out of control.”

One of Sarah Palin’s “Mama Grizzlies,” Fiorina stomped her Republican rivals, former Rep. Tom Campbell, a moderate Republican, and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, endorsed by the Tea Party Express and conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R- SC).

Though critics will jump on DeVore’s loss as a sign of a weak Tea Party, he was endorsed by only one group, albeit a vocal and well-funded group, within the amorphous party. Fiorina pulled more support from voters who identified with the Tea Party movement.

The incumbency question again will not be answered in California until November. In a head-to-head matchup, Boxer beats Fiorina at this point. And while the former Hewlett-Packard CEO campaigns on her business background and ability to lead in tough times, Boxer is already attacking Fiorina for layoffs at the company. But the road to November is long.

In the California governor’s race, Meg Whitman’s victory over state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner places her in a faceoff against the quintessential career politician—Jerry Brown, governor of California from 1975 to 1983, then mayor of Oakland and now the state attorney general. In the run-up to the primary, Brown sat on his campaign coffers waiting for the definitive insider-outsider battle to begin.

Whitman, who made history at the helm of eBay generating $8 billion in revenues, has said she is prepared to spend as much as $150 million to reach California’s 38 million residents. Those deep pockets will be necessary with statewide ads running $3 million a week.

At a rally Sunday afternoon, as much a kickoff of to her general election campaign as the end of her primary run, Whitman drove home Brown’s insider status: “Jerry Brown was already governor—35 years ago...”

In a state faced with high unemployment, record home foreclosures, and a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, the voters will decide if Whitman has the answer: “I am the only one who has balanced a budget, who has met a payroll, who has actually created jobs and been on the receiving end of burdensome regulations. I will take on the special interests in Sacramento.”

Nevada is home to the poster boy for incumbency, Sen. Harry Reid (D), who has represented the state since 1986. With an unfavorable rating at 53 percent in May according to Rasmussen, the race for “anybody but Harry” created a split Republican field. Three strong contenders each hoped to dethrone the Senate majority leader, the ultimate Washington insider.

State Rep. Sharron Angle, endorsed by the Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks, and the Club for Growth, surged from the single digits to take the lead in statewide polls, eventually beating Danny Tarkanian, son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, and former Nevada Republican Party Chairman Sue Lowden.

With strong opposition to the new health-care law, and the highest foreclosure rate and the second highest unemployment rate of any state in the nation, Reid’s seat should be ripe for the picking.

Angle holds strong views against taxes and government spending. While in the state Assembly, she dissented so often that a 41-to-1 vote was presumed to be “41-to-Angle.”

And though she polls ahead of Reid in a direct matchup, political insiders, guided by the lede supplied by the media, are worried Angle may not be a strong enough general election candidate come November.

Like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee campaign that sent volunteers in chicken suits to follow Sue Lowden at public appearances, Reid’s campaign is already planning to paint Angle as a “whack job,” according to The Washington Post. But Angle’s anti-government track record could prove popular in the current environment. Reid is going to try to win ugly, throwing in the kitchen sink and more to overcome his anemic 20 percent approval ratings.

But in South Carolina, the politics are uglier. Igniting voter anger backfired, propelling state Rep. Nikki Haley (R) one stiletto-heeled step closer to the governor’s office. Falling just short of the required 50 percent, Haley will now face a runoff against Rep. Gresham Barrett (R) on June 22. (At press time, Barrett’s campaign indicated he would not bow out despite Haley’s double-digit advantage.)

Once the underdog, Haley surged ahead of her opponents in the polls following an endorsement by Big Mama Grizzly Sarah Palin. Haley maintained her lead despite dirty politics and allegations of adultery, ethnic slurs, and questions about her faith. And all that mudslinging came from the power players within the party.

Her reaction to the personal attacks: “When you turn around and threaten their power and you threaten their money, they turn around and push back,” Haley told a crowd of supporters Saturday night. “But what they don’t understand is I have a strong faith, I have a strong spine, and I have a strong husband that puts on a military uniform every day.”

In a state exhausted by the tabloid-headline behavior of Gov. Mark Sanford (R), Haley capitalized on her reformer messages and outsider status, both in appearance and persona. A strong fiscal conservative, she received backing from Tea Party groups, the Club for Growth, Mitt Romney, and South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford.

If Haley wins the Republican nomination in two weeks and is elected in November, she will become the first woman and, being of Indian descent, the first minority elected governor of South Carolina. “If I win, I want it to be historic in the nature that South Carolina is moving forward for reform,” Haley said Tuesday after voting in the primary.

While Congress dined on smoked salmon with President Obama and the first lady at a picnic on the South Lawn on Tuesday evening, the voters spoke. The message is clear. The party is over.

And the people are in charge.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.