Upstarts bench GOP’s all-star team
DENVER | Less than a year ago, top Republican Party officials boasted of an all-star lineup of experienced candidates poised to breeze through their Senate primary elections and put the hurt on vulnerable Democrats in November. The roster included Charlie Crist in Florida, Jane Norton in Colorado, Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Rob Simmons in Connecticut and Sue Lowden in Nevada.
After Tuesday’s primary votes, not one member of the dream team will be the Republican nominee in November.
Instead of rolling to victory, the GOP’s well-groomed recruits have been sideswiped by insurgents, unknowns and dark horses, challengers whose failure to win the party’s seal of approval was suddenly viewed by voters as a plus.
The results speak to a rising intensity among GOP-base voters, but whether the results will prove a problem in November remains to be seen. Democrats such as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine were quick to claim that the upsets in the GOP ranks Tuesday had only improved Democratic chances of holding vulnerable seats in Congress and the statehouses this fall.
“I think you would be hard-pressed to see where Democrats didn’t have an extraordinarily good night and are faced with, quite frankly, candidates that are largely out of step with the states and areas that they wish to ultimately represent,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.
The Republican anti-establishment trend claimed more victims Tuesday. In Colorado, Mrs. Norton, the former lieutenant governor, lost to Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, a “tea party” favorite, by 51.5 percent to 48.4 percent.
On the gubernatorial side, former Rep. Scott McInnis was narrowly defeated by little-known businessman Dan Maes by 50.6 percent to 49.3 percent. While Mr. Maes was backed by tea party activists, Mr. McInnis‘ loss likely had less to do with his status as the favorite of the party establishment than with his involvement in a highly publicized plagiarism scandal.
In Connecticut, pro-wrestling executive Linda McMahon, running in her first campaign, put a smackdown on a primary field that included former Rep. Rob Simmons, a moderate whom party leaders had seen as a good fit for the Democrat-leaning state.
“The support of the voters of Connecticut isn’t bestowed by the establishment or the pundits or the media,” Mrs. McMahon said after her victory. “It isn’t a birthright.”
GOP strategists said Democrats were trying to spin the primary results despite clear signs of Republican momentum ahead of the midterm vote.
Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, noted that polls say Mr. Buck, despite his outsider status, will be a tougher challenger for Mr. Bennet than Mrs. Norton would have been. In Connecticut, Mr. Walsh noted, Democratic Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal’s one-time 30-percentage-point lead in the polls has fallen to just 10 points, with the state’s critical independent voter bloc trending toward Mrs. McMahon.
Democrats have largely managed to avoid this year’s attack of the dark horse candidate, and Tuesday was no exception. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, aided by President Obama’s strong personal support, defeated his primary challenger, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, while Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper coasted to victory unopposed in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Mr. Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, won the Democratic nomination for Senate, and instantly became the front-runner in his race against Mrs. McMahon. Likewise, Mr. Hickenlooper is already polling far ahead of Mr. Maes and American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo, who entered the race shortly after Mr. McInnis imploded.
One exception on the Democratic side this year came in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Obama’s endorsement could not save Sen. Arlen Specter from a loss in the Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak. Polls say Mr. Sestak faces an uphill fight against GOP nominee Pat Toomey, a former congressman who did not face a primary battle.
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