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AZ-08: The GOP and the West

AZ-08 and Rhode Island Senate were the two big primaries for the GOP yesterday, and they provide something of a study in why the GOP is in so much trouble this year.

The national GOP -- from the perspective of holding the seat, at least -- was certainly lucky to see Chafee pull it off (probably on the strength of independents, more than Republicans). Meanwhile, the national GOP "lost" AZ-08 (as it had given money to Randy Graf's opponent in the primary).

However, the Senate is a bit safer than the House, so the national GOP may have lost the more important of the two primaries (and Chafee, as John mentions below, is hardly "safe" in any event -- he just has an even chance, whereas Laffey would have been dead meat out of the starting gate).

So why is all of this such a revealing indication of the GOP's problems in '06? Well, in the Blue Northeast, even Lincoln Chafee, the biggest "moderate" of them all, is in the fight of his life due to the massive unpopularity of President Bush, the war in Iraq, and the GOP Congress. Meanwhile, in the Red interior West, a seat Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) won 60%-36% in 2004 is now a likely Democratic pickup -- because of the national mood, and because the GOP continues to move in what I've been calling a "southern" direction.

What do I mean by "southern"? Well, more about "values" than about "freedom." More about growing government than about shrinking it. And obsessed with illegal immigration. AZ-08, according to the latest Almanac of American Politics, is 18% Hispanic and 87% urban. Republicans hold a 6% edge over Democrats, but 26% of voters in the district are independents.

If the GOP loses the House this fall, it's going to lose it in the Northeast and the West -- while holding onto its southern base. If there's a real landslide and the Senate goes, too, it will be because of seats like Sen. George Allen's in Virginia -- where Allen might prove too "southern" even for Virginia.