Front Page Mag: Primary Lessons by Jacob Laskin

As President Obama’s poll ratings tumble and the Democratic majority in Congress continues to post record disapproval numbers, some on the Left have consoled themselves with the thought that the growing grassroots hostility to incumbent candidates transcends party and ideology. In this exegesis, liberal and progressive discontents are just as wound up – and just as influential – as their conservative Tea Party counterparts. If this week’s primary election results proved anything, it’s that this reading of the nation’s political map won’t wash. While the Tea Parties continued to notch victories in pivotal primary races, the Left’s insurgents were rebuffed.

The most prominent example came from Arkansas, where embattled Senator Blanche Lincoln staved off a bruising challenge from her union-backed rival, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Lincoln drew Big Labor’s wrath for heresies like opposing “card check [1]” legislation, which would have eliminated secret ballots to facilitate union organizing. As payback, unions, aided by a battery of progressive political action groups, put their full political clout into the race, sponsoring Halter to the tune of $10 million. But while the lavishly funded challenge did force Lincoln into a runoff, the unions’ purchasing power came up short. As one agonized Obama White House official told Politico: “Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise.” Lincoln remains deeply vulnerable. Polls show she trails her Republican opponent John Boozman by some 25 points. But her defeat, if it comes, will be punishment for being too loyal to the Left’s agenda (Lincoln cast the decisive 60th vote to pass ObamaCare) rather than for straying too far from it.

Lest one dismiss Arkansas as a one-off from conservative country, liberal bastions proved no more receptive to left-wing insurgents. In California’s 36thdistrict, far-Left candidate Marcy Winograd lost her second successive bid to oust Democratic centrist Jane Harman. Winograd, who styles herself as a “peace” activist, ran a campaign that sounded the full range of the angry Left’s talking points: Harman was variously portrayed as a corporate shill, a warmonger, and a traitor to the Left. An outspoken foe of Israel, Winograd even tried to capitalize on Harman’s pro-Israel record in the context of the recent clash between Israeli commandos and armed Turkish activists attempting to run Israel’s naval blockade. Winograd boasted [2] that as a sign of “solidarity” with the activists, her campaign had sent a Winograd for Congress T-Shirt that had been “worn on the flotilla.” As primary day neared, progressive blogs began trumpeting [3] Winograd as the new Joe Sestak – a true progressive who would oust the incumbent impostor. The hype proved just that, as Harman won by a comfortable 18-point [4] margin.

Still, those determined to rain on the Tea Party’s parade ask a pertinent question: Can the movement replicate its strong success in primaries in general election races, where it must court a more ideologically diverse electorate? Democratic strategists and the mainstream media have professed glee over the prospect of Democratic incumbents facing candidates like Sharron Angle, whom they deem too far out of the mainstream. One Democratic strategistsuggested [8] that Harry Reid would be “dancing in the streets” were Angle to win the GOP nomination. The Washington Post even did Reid the unsolicited favor of producing a list of allegedly damning quotes [9] that Reid could use to paint Angle as an extremist. But if early poll results are any guide, the Angle-Reid matchup won’t be the cakewalk that Democrats suppose. Indeed, a recent Mason-Dixon poll has Angle beating Reid by 44 percent to 41 percent. The Tea Party, it seems, is just getting started.”

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