Political analysts are focused on primary contests in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky, hoping to assess the mood of the electorate. Are they kidding? The fact that Arlen Specter has been defeated in his run to serve yet another term in the Senate, that Blanche Lincoln is a toss-up in Arkansas’ Democrat primary, after 18 total years in Congress and that Rand Paul, an eye surgeon best known for his Libertarian (read: odd-ball) father easily beat his party’s favored rival to become the Republican Senatorial candidate from Kentucky says it all. Let’s make it simple: the common denominator is that each of these contests will be decided by voters – and yes, the Tea Partiers –who viciously oppose President Obama’s health care bill.
Arlen Specter famously switched parties a year ago to save his seat, and in so doing provided Democrats with a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority. President Obama, desperate for that extra vote so vital to passing his signature health care bill, owes him. The president went to bat for Specter in this race, as did Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and virtually the entire Democratic machine. More recently, when it became apparent that Specter might lose in spite of White House support, the president backed off, not wanting to share in another loss.
Representative Joe Sestak has become the party’s candidate, even though polls have shown that voters know little about Sestak, a second-term Congressman. Their vote is consequently a referendum on Specter, who is distrusted by mainstream Democrats and whose popularity took a huge hit after he voted for the president’s health care bill. In town hall meetings he tried to explain his vote to angry constituents, but to no avail. His popularity never rebounded. In a recent poll, 53% of likely Pennsylvania voters indicated they wanted to repeal the health care bill.
In Kentucky, Rand Paul handily defeated Trey Grayson, the Kentucky Secretary of State endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. How did Paul skip ahead of the mainstream candidate? He favors term limits, disagrees with bailouts, supports a strong military, a strong dollar and wants lower taxes. Needless to say, he dislikes the health care bill. In other words, he opposes nearly everything President Obama stands for. As he said in his victory speech, “We’ve come to take government back.”
Blanche Lincoln is another incumbent fighting for the chance to run for reelection. She is being pressed by liberal candidate Lt. Governor Bill Halter. She is likely to win, but may be forced into a run-off because of a third candidate who may split the vote. Lincoln’s threat comes from the left. Huge spending by MoveOn.org, unions and other left-leaning organizations have boosted Mr. Halter’s chances. It may prove academic. Recent Rasmussen polls indicate that both Lincoln and Halter are underdogs to prospective Republican challengers in the fall. The same poll indicates that 48% of voters have a very unfavorable view of Lincoln, while 18% view her very favorably. Like Specter, she tumbled in voter estimation when she provided a key vote to keep health care legislation alive. In Arkansas, 65% of likely voters favor repealing the law.
Should we view the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries as a rebuke to the president? The White House will certainly blame the missteps of the candidates, the weather, the alignment of the stars or maybe insurance companies to explain why the votes didn’t all fall their way – as they have done in other races. Realistically, since he campaigned early on for Specter and for Lincoln, a defeat for both would confirm – in conjunction with failed campaign efforts in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia -- the president has lost his Mojo.
Liz Peek is a political, financial and social columnist. For more visit LizPeek.com.
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