GOP Insurgents Make Presence Felt

GOP Insurgents Make Presence Felt

By Sean Trende - August 25, 2010


The first polls to close were in Florida and Vermont. In Florida, first time GOP candidate Rick Scott defeated Attorney General Bill McCollum 46 percent to 43 percent in the party's gubernatorial primary. Scott has baggage relating to his ouster as CEO of a large health care company in the midst of allegations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud. But Scott also has deep reservoirs of cash to draw upon, and state CFO Alex Sink, who easily won the Democratic nomination, will have to scramble to keep up.

While Scott is the candidate Sink was probably hoping to face, it should be remembered that McCollum is a milquetoast politician with who has been a fixture in Florida politics since winning an Orlando-based House seat in 1980; his career took a turn for the worse when he lost a Senate election in 2000 and then a Senate primary election in 2004. Like the Nevada Senate primary, the Florida GOP was choosing between damaged candidates.

In the Senate race, the action was on the Democratic side. Four-term Congressman Kendrick Meek won his first competitive election ever, defeating billionaire Jeff Greene 57 percent to 31 percent. This is the result Republicans were hoping for. Independent candidate and current Governor Charlie Crist will have to rely upon Democratic votes in order to win the Senate seat against Republican nominee Marco Rubio, who easily won his primary. Meek is more likely than Greene to hold Democratic base voters, especially in the heavily African American constituency he represented in Congress. In essence, Crist's pool of potential voters is a lot narrower than it would have been against Greene.

Downticket, Democratic Congressman Allen Boyd narrowly (51 percent to 49 percent) survived his primary challenge against state Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson in the 2nd Congressional District. He will face off against political newcomer Steve Southerland in what looks to be his first tough re-election effort. Republicans got a credible candidate in the 8th District, where former state Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster won the nod. He'll face off against controversial Democratic Freshman Alan Grayson; a "credible" candidate may be all that the GOP needs to win that race.

Establishment GOP choices emerged victorious in the 22nd and 25th District, while the 24th District is undecided as of this writing. State Representative Sandy Adams, who was a party choice but suffered from lackluster fundraising, holds a narrow lead over Winter Park City Commissioner Karen Diebel, who was endorsed by Tom Tancredo, and who has some controversial issues in her past.


Few gave attorney Joe Miller much of a chance against Senator Lisa Murkowski while yesterday's voting was under way. But with 84 percent of precincts reporting, he is leading by about 2,500 votes out of almost 90,000 cast.

Assuming the upset occurs - and there are thousands of ballots still to be counted - there are probably two factors at work here. First, Murkowski was a weak incumbent. Her tenure in the Senate was tainted by the way she came to power: Her father won the seat since 1980, and when he won election as governor in 2002, he appointed her to his seat. The charges of nepotism damaged Murkowski in 2004, when she found herself in a tight race against former Governor Tony Knowles. Murkowski barely won that race. Remember, the state's GOP roots are so solid that Alaskans almost re-elected Ted Stevens after he was convicted on corruption charges, and in a terrible GOP year at that.

Murkowski has also been one of the more moderate GOP Senators, compiling a voting record that placed her only slightly to the right of Senators Snowe and Collins. In a state that supported John McCain with 59 percent of the vote, a voting record such as that is bound to create problems with party activists, as Senator Bob Bennett of Utah learned earlier this year.

The other factor was undoubtedly former Governor Sarah Palin. There is no love lost between the Palins and the Murkowskis: Palin's rise was fueled by her successful primary challenge against Frank Murkowski in 2006. Throwing her weight behind Miller raised him from obscurity and cast him into the public eye; his $300,000 raised by the end of June would never have been enough to upset Murkowski absent the free media the Palin endorsement earned him. Obviously, this helps to repair Palin's reputation as a kingmaker after some recent setbacks, and, if Miller's lead holds, will create another politician who owes Palin a favor.

The victor will face Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams in the fall. McAdams has raised $9,175 to date, and seems unlikely to pose too much of a threat to Miller or Murkowski.


In Vermont, the only race of interest was the Democratic gubernatorial primary. As of this morning, with 89 percent of precincts reporting, three candidates are knotted up within 1,000 votes of each other. State Senate President pro tempore Peter Shumlin narrowly leads former Lieutenant Governor Doug Racine by 130 votes, while Secretary of State Deb Markowitz trails Shumlin by only 920 votes. The winner will face Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie in the fall, who has led in most polling.


The one clear defeat that grassroots conservatives suffered last night was probably their most bitter one. John McCain coasted to victory over former Representative J.D. Hayworth, 56 percent to 32 percent. McCain saw the mood of the country shift early, and shifted his stances accordingly. He became a leading critic of the Obama administration on a wide range of issues, from the stimulus to health care.

On the other hand, Hayworth proved to be a weak candidate, most notably when videotape arose showing Hayworth in an infomercial explaining how to get money from the federal government. McCain will face former Tucson City Councilman Rodney Glassman in November. Governor Jan Brewer handily won her primary, an astounding comeback for a politician whose political obituary was all but written earlier this year.

Republicans also selected candidates in four Congressional races. Dentist Paul Gosar upset former state Senate Majority Leader Rusty Bowers in the primary, and will face off against Representative Ann Kirkpatrick in the fall. Gosar was actually the leading fundraiser in the race, so it isn't quite as big of an upset as it seemed; activist Sidney Hay was probably the candidate with the strongest grassroots appeal. Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, won in the open 3rd District. In any other year, that race would be competitive, but this year he will probably win handily against well-financed Democratic attorney Jon Hulburd.

In the 5th District, Maricopa County Treasurer Dave Schweikert fought off a pair of grassroots challengers to earn a rematch with Congressman Harry Mitchell, who defeated Schweikert by nine points in 2008. In the 8th District, Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly ran a successful grassroots campaign to upset establishment pick Jonathan Paton (who, in addition to being an Iraq War Veteran, was a former state senator). Kelly proved an able fundraiser, however, and his nomination probably doesn't help Representative Gabrielle Giffords that much.


Oklahoma held a runoff election in two congressional districts. In the heavily Republican 5th District, quirky professor James Lankford defeated former state Representative Kevin Calvey. He will face attorney Billy Coyle in the general, where he will be heavily favored.

Veterinarian Charles Thompson won the right to take on Democratic Representative Dan Boren in the 2nd District. Thompson has no money and, on paper, would have little chance. But this is also the district where retired high school principal Virgil Cooper defeated Representative Mike Synar in the 1994 Democratic primary while spending less than $20,000. But Boren is substantially more conservative than Synar, and an upset is unlikely, unless a massive wave develops in November.

Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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