There were primary elections in ten states yesterday, plus a runoff to fill a vacant U.S. House seat in Georgia. It is hard to find a compelling theme from the results, other then the emergence of female candidates for the GOP in statewide races. Below is a wrap-up of the key results.
California: The nation’s most populous state had the country’s most expensive primary race ever: the GOP fight for the nomination for governor. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, spent an estimated $80 million on her campaign. She won decisively, with over 60% of the vote. She will now face 72-year-old Jerry Brown, who already served as governor from 1975 to 1983. It will be difficult, to say the least, for Brown to run as the candidate of “change we can believe in.” Whitman will undoubtedly spend many more tens of millions in the general election campaign. Brown led by 6 points in the last pre-primary match-up with Whitman, but was below 50%.
The GOP nominated another female former CEO, Carly Fiorina (Hewlett Packard), to take on three-term Senator Barbara Boxer. Fiorina also won a decisive victory, with over 50% of the vote in a multi-candidate field. Boxer led by a similar 6-point margin over Fiorina in a recent match-up, but was also below 50%, a danger zone for an incumbent. In a year when voters seem to be seeking fresh faces and have been welcoming to non-politicians, the Republicans are offering a very different look to an electorate that has had a very significant gender gap in recent cycles, with Democrats winning by big margins among women voters. Another factor that may help both GOP candidates is the association of the Democrats with the public employee unions that have nearly bankrupted California, and several other states, with outlandish pay and pension plans, approved by Democratic-controlled state legislatures and governors in recent years. Critics of the Obama administration and its push to rapidly increase the size and control of the federal government may also be drawn to these two GOP contenders who have private sector experience.
All that said, California has become a solidly blue state over the last two decades, and is one of the nation’s first majority minority states. If Hispanics, angered by the new Arizona law, show up in large numbers in November to register their support for the Democrats, the party they perceive as more pro-immigrant, it could counter the enthusiasm advantage that the GOP seems to have nationally this year. At this point, I rate both races as toss-ups, perhaps slightly leaning Democratic. The GOP challengers will be well-financed but will have to deal with the money and ground game of the unions, who for the first time in decades see a threat to the sweetheart deals they have wrung or coerced from state and municipal governments. The GOP candidates have made the focus of their campaigns the condition of the national and state economies — the huge increases in government spending, record deficits, unfunded pensions, credit rating risks, and general mismanagement. These are far better issues to run on this year than the much more divisive social issues that have been more front and center in recent cycles in California and that have hurt the GOP, particularly among women voters.
Arkansas: Speaking of unions, they flushed $10 million away on a Democratic primary fight for the nomination for senator in Arkansas to demonstrate their anger at Senator Blanche Lincoln for withdrawing her support for card check legislation. The unions want more members, particularly in the private sector where their numbers have faded, and are fighting cutbacks to what they have already won in the public sector. More members mean more union dues. More dues mean more money to spend on campaigns to elect union-friendly politicians who will do their bidding. A vicious cycle one might say, especially for the taxpayers who eventually foot the bill for public sector employees.
No president has ever been more union-friendly than Barack Obama, as seen by the more than 20 White House visits by former SEIU President Andy Stern, who is now (hold your laughter) part of an appointed panel to come up with ideas to reduce the federal deficit. In Arkansas, the unions crossed President Obama, backing Lt. Governor Bill Halter’s challenge to Lincoln from the left. Lincoln led narrowly but failed to get 50% in the initial primary and won 52% in the runoff. In any case, she now has a huge uphill fight to retain her seat. She trails the GOP nominee, Congressman John Boozman, by over 20 points. That margin will likely close a bit now after the primary.