"No one could have anticipated the entrance of a multi-millionaire with a questionable past who shattered campaign spending records and spent more in four months than has ever been spent in a primary race here in Florida." - a late-night press release offering Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum's concession to winner Rick Scott, but most pointedly not his congratulations or endorsement.
Republicans are fired up and ready to go, and that's producing some surprising election results, including the possible defeat of Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, who would be the third sitting U.S. Senator ousted by their own party this year.
The sound you hear is the soft weeping of writers in newsrooms across the land looking for a way to describe Tuesday's primary election results. The establishment strikes back? John McCain did win really big in Arizona over Tea Party steamer J.D. Hayworth and Kendrick Meek crushed Jeff Greene for the Democratic Senate nomination in Florida. But wait, Murkowski may be headed to a loss in Alaska at the hands of a Tea Party Palinisto, Joe Miller. And well-funded outsider Rick Scott soundly defeated Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum for the GOP gubernatorial nod. What's a hack to do?
Tuesday's results should shatter any idea that there is a reliable narrative for this year's elections, save one - Democrats have a lot of trouble on their hands. It's true that this is a wild election year, but that is mostly owed to the high levels of voter interest and the spike in voter intensity on the Republican side. If Murkowski loses after all the votes are counted, she will be the second sitting Republican senator to be unseated by their own party. Democrats knocked off Arlen Specter owing to his 44 years as a Republican whom they were well accustomed to voting against. The tumult in this election cycle is largely attributable to the high levels of Republican participation.
Look at Florida. Despite a voter registration advantage of almost 600,000, Democrats were outvoted by some 350,000 votes on Tuesday. Both parties had one hot statewide race and Republicans showed their enthusiasm in a big way. Look at the map from the Tampa Tribune - there was big turnout in the Republican-heavy panhandle but very poor showings in Democratic-dominated South Florida. Republican primary turnout was up 30 percent across the state compared to 2006. As Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment learned in 2008, when you bring new voters into the process, unpredictable things tend to happen.
Rick Scott's victory in Florida will give the Republicans some headaches. Scott, like many businessmen who get into politics, seems to struggle with tone. But the biggest problem is that his record as a hospital executive will provide lots of fodder for Democratic nominee Alex Sink to run attack ads. And if they need any ideas, McCollum's team went as far as they could in that vein - showing filthy operating rooms and all but accusing Scott of Medicare fraud. The acrimony with which McCollum and Scott closed the campaign may fester into party division as November approaches.
But Rep. Kendrick Meek's Democratic Senate victory is good news for Republicans. Meek (check him out on FOX & Friends around 8:15 Eastern) will prove to be a much better general election candidate than his real-estate speculator opponent Jeff Greene would have been. Why is that good for the GOP? The best Democratic hope in Florida's Senate race was to have suddenly left-leaning independent Gov. Charlie Crist pull off a victory and then join the Democratic caucus. Now, Crist will have a much harder time drawing in the Democratic votes to get the 34 percent minimum of the vote he needs in a three-way race. As long as Crist is running, Republican Marco Rubio (see him on FOX & Friends at 8:30 Eastern) wants a Democrat who can hold off the governor's advances.
The Alaska story, though, could shape up to be the most interesting. Miller leads Murkowski, a second-generation senator, by three percent. But the results are still trickling in - more than 15 percent of the ballots have not been counted, including the many absentee ballots from Alaskans who work, serve or attend school elsewhere. If Murkowski goes down it will be the biggest pelt yet for Sarah Palin's hunting party. She backed Miller (as did the Tea Party Express with a late $500,000 ad buy) and can claim lots of credit for his success. If Miller prevails, he should have a clear shot at the Senate against Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams. Miller is a conservative, West Point graduate, Yale-educated lawyer and former judge. While Alaskans overall may have some reservations about Palin after she abruptly left the governorship, this should be a very Republican year in a very Republican state.