Primary Challenges

2 Jul

Primary Challenges

In the last several months we have seen upsets and changes. Up until recently the trend among the Republican primaries was establishment candidates defeating Tea Party opponents. This was the opposite of the last two election cycles. In previous years we saw controversial candidates winning around the country. The Tea Party seemed to be losing steam until earlier this month when they claimed their first victim of the election cycle, Eric Cantor.

While I agree that his loss was a huge upset and sent shockwaves throughout the country, I disagree as to the reason he lost. Conventional Wisdom blamed Eric Cantor’s support for immigration reform, but I believe that oversimplifies why he lost (btw immigration reform had little chance of passing before his defeat). One of the things many people overlooked is that he was not focusing on his home district enough. It’s no secret that he was trying to gather support to become speaker if Boehner were to leave his post next year. If you look at recent primary trends, I think it is more likely that Cantor lost his seat because he was focusing on gathering support for speaker. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil was known for his saying, “All politics is local.” I don’t think that saying is always true, but I think it applies in Eric Cantor’s defeat.

The other surprise in the last year was the primary race between Mississippi Senator Thad Chochran and his challenger Chris McDaniel. Senator Cochran was seen as particularly vulnerable because he lives in one of the most conservative states in the U.S. While he has been reliably conservative throughout his Senate Career, his vote to end the shutdown last year caused him to have to face a primary challenger. Mississippi state senator Chris McDaniel was seen as a rising star in the Republican Party in Mississippi and is a Tea Party favorite. Senator Cochran looked vulnerable in the months leading up to the primary.

Unlike Republican senate primaries in previous years, the Tea Party candidate’s controversial comments hurt the candidate before the general election. Of all of the Republican Senators that faced a Tea Party challenger, I thought that Senator Cochran was most likely to lose to his challenger. Senator Cochran’s opponent had the upper-hand before he made a series of missteps that hurt him. Chris McDaniel spoke at an event and received money from Neo-Confederate groups (he later said he returned money from them). He also said that he would refuse to pay his taxes if any of the money went to reparations.

In addition to McDaniel making controversial decisions, the Tea Party and members of McDaniels’ campaign made one bad mistake. Supporters of McDaniel took pictures of Senator Cochran’s wife in a nursing home. Whatever they were trying to do backfired, and may have resulted in Senator Cochran forcing a runoff. In the runoff Senator Cochran won by appealing to African-Americans and Democrats to win. He focused on Chris McDaniel’s controversial comments and neo-confederate support. Senator Cochran is now a lock for another term.

We have had two different surprising primaries in the last month. One saw Eric Cantor become the first house majority leader to ever lose a primary. The other race saw a long-serving incumbent Senator from Mississippi narrowly win his primary. We shouldn’t assume that these results were only because of one factor, which people often do after elections. The Tea Party is not dead but it has been wounded around the country. We will still see some Tea Party candidates win, but not like we did the last two election cycles. Things will get interesting in the next several months as we get closer to the general election. Stay tuned.


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