Just a quick word on the primaries last night, because most of what needed to be said has been said, and it all happened while I was watching the astonishing crumbling of financial reform (more on that in a minute, and how it ties into all this).
By now you know the basics: Joe Sestak didn’t “get killed” by Arlen Specter, but put him out to pasture. Democrats got the most favorable possible matchup in Kentucky, with solid Democrat Jack Conway edging homophobic ConservaDem Dan Mongiardo, and Rand Paul infuriating the state GOP establishment – enough to stay home? – by beating their golden boy Trey Grayson. Bill Halter not only forced Blanche Lincoln to a runoff, he came within 6,000 votes of beating her outright, and will be IMO favored to win on June 8 (again, more in a minute).
In the biggest bellweather race of the night, Mark Critz thrashed Tim Burns in PA-12, and will replace the late Jack Murtha in PA-12. Critz is a pretty crappy Blue Dog Democrat, and I’m not going to cheer his arrival into Congress. But this result was completely obvious, regardless of what you hear about this being a Kerry/McCain swing district (hate to say it, but the 2008 general election followed the general bad showing for the African-American Obama in Appalachia, and cannot be attributed to other candidates). Critz knew exactly how to win in this district – he latched himself tightly enough to Murtha that there was no doubt who the old man would have supported. The headline “Murtha aide wins Murtha’s Congressional seat” is appropriate here. I think everyone in my family who works in that district works in a building named after Jack Murtha. And this was his district director, his face inside the district. Not only that, this is one of the few districts left in the country where labor GOTV really can matter, and it did. Plus, this is a rapidly aging district, and Critz did nothing but talk about Social Security for the last months.
That, and the NRCC is just completely and totally pathetic, and frankly, the DCCC is pretty darn good at this stuff. They’ve won 7 straight special elections in a time when the tea partiers and the like are supposed to be destroying the Democratic majority. For that reason, you pretty much can rule out a big wave election in November. The founts of conventional wisdom will extrapolate from this race, rightly or wrongly, that if Republicans cannot win this seat, precisely the type they’re supposed to win in November, they cannot win the 40 or so seats they’d need to regain Congress.
As for what it all means, I’ll take Sam Stein’s take as a template. The progressive movement showed they can still be a force in elections, if not in governing (I keep previewing my next piece). Across the country, real Democrats were chosen over corrupt elites or conservative Democrats. This really ends up being a game of inches – but I still believe it matters who gets these politicians into office. Joe Sestak is accountable, in the short term, to a whole different set of actors than Arlen Specter. The same with Bill Halter over Blanche Lincoln. The same with Manan Trivedi, the progressive candidate who squeaked by a right-wing challenger named Doug Pike in the Democratic primary in PA-06. Incumbents haven’t shown the responsibility to govern; ConservaDems don’t offer the change Democrats voted for in 2008. Not even Barack Obama can save these kinds of candidates from their fate.
As for the right, the tea partiers or whoever is pulling the strings behind them have a long-term goal to take over their party and move it even further to the right, and they’re succeeding wildly, institutionally speaking. Winning elections against Democrats is another matter.