Yesterday's Results: A farewell to Arlen, anti-incumbency, and how the GOP women fared

Well, we won't have Arlen Specter to kick around anymore. As you probably know, he was defeated in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary; Joe Sestak will now face Republican Pat Toomey in November. In the other marquee races, Rand Paul pounded Trey Grayson in the Kentucky GOP Senate primary, while Jack Conway edged Dan Mongiardo for the Democrats (although it seems Mongiardo may be calling for a recount); Blanche Lincoln failed to reach 50%, and will have to face Bill Halter in a runoff election for the Arkansas Senate nod, with the winner probably going on to lose to Republican John Boozman; and Democrat Mark Critz won easily in the special election to replace Jack Murtha in Congress.

It's always tempting to draw broad conclusions from individual elections, and the big interpretations nationally seem to be that the results were evidence of strong anti-incumbent sentiment, and that the elections were good news for Democrats.

There's some truth to both. Starting with the second piece, it's certainly good for Dems that they kept Murtha's seat; they also ended up with pretty decent-looking match-ups in both Penn. and Ky. -- not that Sestak and Conway necessarily start as favorites, but the races should be competitive.

There's certainly some anti-incumbent sentiment out there, but I would suggest that we could also view the results as the party bases doing what they tend to do of late -- vote ideology over the party elites' preference for pragmatism.

Typically, party elites, and particularly the Washington establishment, tend to rally behind candidates they view as most electable -- which generally means most appealling to the moderate, independent, swing voters. So, they want people with established names in the state or district; people with proven fundraising ability; demonstrated ability winning votes; and people with fairly moderate views. For the Democrats, that meant Specter, Lincoln, and Conway; for the GOP, it was Grayson.

But those swing voters don't play much of a role in primaries, and party primary voters tend to be less pragmatic and more ideological. Plus, I think there is an anti-party-establishment mood these days among both Democrats and Republicans -- driven largely, though, by the sense that the party elites are not acting liberal or conservative enough, as the case may be. So, a large part of the base wanted someone more liberal than Specter or Lincoln, and more conservative than Grayson.

(Interesting side note: the GOP establishment probably would have been behind Specter, too, except that it became so obvious that primary voters were going to reject him as too moderate. The party leaders' withdrawal of support from him, and his leaving the party, were examples of how the base now leads the party establishment, rather than the other way around -- and then Democrats proved the principle on their side as well.)

Moving along to my obsessive chronicling of the demise of elected Republican women (regardless of Cathy McMorris Rodgers' declaring the other day that 2010 is the Year of the Republican Woman)... 

10 women were on the ballot in Republican primaries, in the 34 congressional districtsat stake yesterday. Three moved on to the general election (two of whom were unopposed, to face safe Democratic incumbents), and one is heading to a runoff.

That last one was one of the dozen or so best chances the GOP has put forward to add new women to their meager congressional caucus -- those are the candidates I've found who are running serious, competitive campaigns in the 50+ most winnable districts for the GOP. So far, those candidates are 0-for-2 in their primaries; Cecile Bledsoe in Arkansas's 3rd district -- a sure Republican win, to replace Boozman -- was the third. It didn't go great: she squeaked into the run-off with 13% of the vote, but way behind Steve Womack's 31%.

Beth Ann Rankin, however, won her primary in the Arkansas 4th, so she'll go up against incumbent Mike Ross -- a race rated "Likely Democratic" by the analysts. She's just the 2nd non-incumbent GOP woman to get onto the final ballot so far (out of 131 districts) in a district rated less than "Safe Democratic", along with Jackie Walorski in another "Likely D" race against an incumbent in Indiana.

And here's an added little tidbit for you: in the 11 states that have held primaries so far, the only Republican women who have won in statewide office races (incumbents or not) are one lieutenant governor candidate and two comptroller candidates. Not every state has statewide offices on the ballot this year, but by comparison the Democrats have moved forward 3 women for LG, 2 for attorney general, 2 for treasurer, and two for secretary of state -- plus Lincoln and Elaine Marshall of NC in runoffs for US Senate.

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