You reap what you sow.
Last night’s final round of primaries, centered around states in the northeast, left the Republican Party with a much narrowed base courtesy of Tea Party backed candidates from Delaware to New Hampshire, depriving the GOP of sure wins in at least one Senate race as they try to cobble together a majority.
The biggest and ugliest upset of the race came with Wingnut Christine O’Donnell’s win over Congressman Mike Castle in Delaware. The Dems will now keep that seat.
In New York, I’d warned readers that it looked like presumptive gubernatorial nominee Rick Lazio could lose big to Tea Party hypocrite Carl Paladino—and he did. Economist and Forbes columnist David Malpass would have been the best candidate against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, but at midnight it looked like he would fall to Joe DioGuardi. The once-proud New York State GOP will slump toward this fall as the only state not benefitting from the Republican wave, because of irrelevant far-right candidates.
Daily Beast contributors on the primary resultsIn New Hampshire, the coronated Kelly Ayotte—the attractive Attorney General—was locked in a tight battle with perennial conservative protest candidate Ovide LaMontagne, thanks to a late breaking Jim DeMint endorsement. If she had lost, it would have been the best thing that could have happened to Democrat Paul Hodes.
On the Democratic side, it looked like incumbent Washington DC Mayor Adrian Fenty would lose to Vincent Gray, despite 64% of residents thinking the city had improved under his watch, because the Teachers’ Union flooded the primary with money in protest of Fenty’s gutsy commitment to education reform.
In Harlem, Charlie Rangel held on to his congressional seat as locals knew but national news analysts seemed to think was impossible. The sad fact is that in our rigged system of redistricting, with safe seats, its much easier to be indicted and impeached that voted out of office. Rangel faces a surprisingly strong Republican candidate in the fall, the Reverend Michel Faulker, a former New York Jet, who deserves more national attention. But even with a House trial against the incumbent, a Republican faces an uphill fight in this district. Rangel will be to a national symbol of Democratic corruption but he will remain beloved and buoyant in his home district.
The big takeway from last night should be the reality that closed partisan primaries can be easily hijacked by activists and ideological extremists. There is something deeply undemocratic about depriving all voters of the chance to pick the candidate they think would represent them best. In Delaware that would have been Mike Castle. In DC, Adrian Fenty. Low turnout, closed partisan primaries can be gamed by special interests—parties are not the purpose of our democracy.
John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.