May 19th, 2010
One quick point before I hop a plane back to DC — as you’re absorbing the media and the punditry’s attempts to Understand The Meaning of Tuesday’s primary losses by Arlen Spector in Pennsylvania and Trey Grayson in Kentucky (see: “Specter Defeat Signals a Wave Against Incumbents”), don’t forget the classic observation that all politics is local. In Pennsylvania, it shouldn’t be that big a surprise that Democratic primary voters decided to pick an actual Democrat to represent them rather than a party-switcher against whom many of them had been fighting for years.
The results in Kentucky are more murky, since Rand Paul openly embraced the Tea Party, showing the potential for a National Wave against the Establishment. At the same time, his voters were essentially being asked to swallow an attempt by Mitch McConnell to control TWO Senate seats, since the senior Senator from Kentucky had created Trey Grayson’s candidacy by running out Jim Bunning. That kind of naked power grab invites a voter rebellion, which Paul was wise enough to capitalize on, particularly since it matched his own message perfectly.
At the same time, Blanche Lincoln survived (for now) and the Dems held on to John Murtha’s old House seat in a Republican-leaning area, where again observers will try to draw grand conclusions from the fact that Mark Critz found it necessary to run against Obama’s healthcare plan. But why should that be a shock, considering that the district had voted for John McCain in 2008? Again, while Critz’s messaging may show the limits of the president’s influence, it may also reflect a cold acknowledgment of local conditions. For now, and with November a long way off, let’s beware of breathless speculation and attempts to nationalize the results of what are still a handful of local elections.