Sunday, August 17, 2014

5 Thoughts on the August Primaries

I'm coming a little late to these thoughts this week, but considering the primaries were stretched over multiple days this seems more than appropriate.  On Tuesday there were primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and on Friday the Hawaii battle royale between Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa came to a close (also, since we didn't really cover this last week-just my thoughts leading up to the races, I'll probably go there with Kansas and Tennessee a bit).  Here's what I'm thinking about the results!

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI)
1. This is the "Year of the Congressional Incumbent"

Forget everything you've heard from the media about how unpopular Congress is, because clearly either the people are lying in these polls or forgetting when elections are (sadly, it's almost certainly the latter).  Despite ample opportunity, both parties have now said with shocking regularity that they want to keep their incumbents.  We already got pretty heavily into this last week with Scott DesJarlais, but Pat Roberts also completed a perfect year for incumbent Republican senators running for reelection (though the media narrative on that one was a bit odd considering that race was much closer than expected).  The Democrats, though, also decided to keep one of their most vulnerable incumbents in Sen. Brian Schatz, an appointed senator who was taking on Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in Hawaii.  Despite initially starting out as the favorite and being a sitting congresswoman with longtime ties in the Aloha State, Hanabusa couldn't get past Schatz's institutional support.  Though there are a few members of Congress left that could fall in a primary (John Tierney being chief amongst them), considering the amount of actual primary challenges, especially amongst the GOP, there was a shockingly high success rate for congressional incumbents.

2. The Governors Races are Weird This Year

We'll be doing a "State of the Governors' Races" later this week, so I don't want to preview this too heavily, but this has just been an odd year for the governors races.  Hawaii was obviously the big news story over the past two weeks in terms of primaries, with Gov. Neil Abercrombie losing to little known State Sen. David Ige.  Abercrombie has been a fixture of Hawaii politics for over 35 years, and is the first sitting Hawaii governor to lose in a primary in a state that is fiercely loyal to its incumbents.  The most bizarre aspect of this race was that a lot of the ill will to Abercrombie was toward him not honoring the iconic late Sen. Dan Inouye's dying wish that Colleen Hanabusa replace him in the Senate, but when given the option the state itself chose not to honor those wishes as well.  Abercrombie also lost in a BIG way, by a 36-point margin on the same ballot that Schatz was winning on.  Ige is definitely expected to take the governor's mansion in November so this is a net neutral in terms of party, but Abercrombie joins Ralph Hall and Eric Cantor on the list of institutional incumbents who lost in a primary this year.

Former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza (D-MN)
3. There's No Substitute for Planning

We discussed this concept earlier this week, but there's no substitute for a plan.  There was honestly very little to report out of the Minnesota primaries this week, but as this is my home state I figured I needed to find something.  The big story was in the State Auditor's race for the Democrats, where former Minnesota House Minority Leader Matt Entenza decided at the very last hour (literally the last day of filing) to randomly challenge State Auditor Rebecca Otto despite little indication that she was vulnerable.  Entenza, once an extremely powerful member of the state legislature, got clobbered by a woman he once mentored into public office.  Otto took him down by a 62-point margin, a shocking defeat that would insinuate that Entenza were a gadfly candidate and not a former major player in politics, all this despite Entenza spending $700k of his personal money on the race.  Considering he's now lost primaries for the Attorney General's office in 2006, the governor's mansion in 2010, and this year's auditor's race, Entenza probably has become a gadfly "frequent candidate" and is done being taken seriously in Minnesota.

4. Michele Bachmann Leaves And...

Michele Bachmann, one of the most famous and controversial current members of Congress, is nearly done with her tenure in the body (though she keeps threatening to run for president), but that doesn't mean that she hasn't left behind some new members to pick up the pace.  Her replacement in the House hasn't quite the track record that she has, though Tom Emmer does have an odd history with DUI laws and of course, gay rights laws.  No, the guy I'm referring to is the man running to replace GOP Rep. Tom Petri in Wisconsin.  State Sen. Glenn Grothman still has to make it out of a recount and could well  lose the primary still to State Sen. Joe Leibham, but it does appear likely that he'll prevail by the skin of his teeth.  Grothman has an extraordinary record of saying controversial things during his time in the Wisconsin state legislature.  He has said that part of the reason for the pay differential between men and women is that "money is more important for men...because they expect to be the breadwinner someday."  He's also against sex education discussing sexual orientation because he thinks it's part of an agenda to persuade students to become gay and that we should educate women who are having children out of wedlock "that this is a mistake."  Expect him to start showing up in Daily Show and Rachel Maddow clips in three, two...

5. The DCCC's Bizarre Recruitment Failures

In a bizarre twist, Grothman seems likely to win considering the Democrats got a third tier candidate in Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris.  Coming on the heels of the Democrats not being able to get a candidate against Richard Hanna and the complete embarrassment that occurred in CA-25 and nearly CA-31 earlier this year, it's unacceptable that such a marginal district didn't get a better candidate.  This is a district President Obama actually won in 2008 and has a PVI of only +5.  State Sen. Jessica King or Mayor Justin Nickels would have been a considerably better choice (or even a self-funder like Jim Graves was in 2012).  Now we have a man who is nearly certain to get tripped up on his comments running in a marginal open seat with a Democrat running statewide who is actually doing extremely well against Scott Walker.  Steve Israel has done a great job with fundraising, but recruitment this year has to be considered a disappointment.

And those are my thoughts on the past two weeks' primaries.  Just a couple more primaries left this season before we get to the big show, but what were your thoughts on these races?  Share in the comments!

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