Convincing victories by Tea Party-supported candidates September 14, especially in the Delaware and New York Republican primaries, have left many sensible conservatives in states which held earlier primaries rightfully jealous. The results of what may someday be known as “DE-NY Day” demonstrate that late primary schedules can enable determined challengers to accomplish the seemingly impossible against the supposedly entrenched. On the flip side, artificially early primaries in states like Ohio and Illinois have been pivotal elements in those states’ preferred-politician protection rackets.
In Delaware’s GOP Senate primary, Christine O’Donnell defeated heavily favored, establishment-sponsored, clearly non-conservative sore loser Mike Castle for many reasons. Surely one of the biggest was that she had time to get her message out. The mid-September primary date worked in her favor both on the ground and through the air, as she garnered critical talk radio and Internet support from influential conservatives Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin, and others. The summer campaign gave O’Donnell the opportunity to convince the party’s sensible conservative base of the importance of stopping Mike Castle, a career politician whose values and votes have clearly been out of touch for years.
As remarkable as O’Donnell’s triumph was over a bitterly hidebound GOP establishment — and over a cacophonous cadre of allegedly conservative political commentators and bloggers who deserve to be challenged as to whose side they’re really on — Carl Paladino’s defeat of Rick Lazio in New York’s Republican gubernatorial primary was in some ways even more impressive. It also probably depended even more on the late primary date. After all, New York is over twenty times the size of Delaware in population and land mass; you can’t just flip a switch and turn on a full-blown campaign operation. Rick Lazio was a reasonably popular former congressman who quixotically (in retrospect) took on Hillary Clinton in the state’s 2000 U.S. Senate race when Rudy Giuliani had to withdraw because of prostate cancer. Though the political differences between Paladino and Lazio weren’t nearly as stark as O’Donnell versus Castle, Paladino carried an astonishing 62% of the vote compared to O’Donnell’s 53% majority.
Delaware and New York voters should thank their lucky stars that their primaries took place after Labor Day instead of before Memorial Day. Insurgent attempts in much earlier primaries in Ohio and Illinois unfortunately had very different results.
In Ohio, primaries during non-presidential election years take place in May; in presidential election years, they are in March. This year, in the state’s U.S. Senate contest, both the Democratic and Republican Party establishments backed “non-controversial” candidates they viewed as “acceptable” in Lee Fisher and Rob Portman, respectively. The candidates and the parties both did everything they could to shut out respective challengers Jennifer Brunner and Tom Ganley almost before either could fire a shot. Fisher’s coronation has angered much of the Democratic base, clearly including Brunner. Though he is probably going to get their votes by default, Portman’s determined and troubling aloofness from the Tea Party has been obvious almost since his campaign began. Voters can be forgiven for feeling that their choice is between Tweedle-D and Tweedle-R. A September primary would have at least caused Fisher and Portman to break an ideological sweat.