So, after the dust settled yesterday in our mid August primaries, where do we stand? In Colorado, the Democratic establishment candidate, Michael Bennet, rode Obama's endorsement to victory as he beat Andrew Romanoff handily in the Democratic primary. The Colorado GOP primary saw former Lt. Governor and GOP favored candidate Jane Norton lose to Ken Buck, a Tea Party darling. If the Democratic establishment candidate emerging to face a Tea Party Republican sounds familiar to you, it should. Elsewhere, political novice Linda McMahon (yes, that Linda McMahon) launched a largely self funded campaign and will go on to challenge the Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in the open seat election to fill Christopher Dodd's seat.
So what? Well, the conventional wisdom is that primaries are generally seen as encouraging ideological extremism, where successful candidates are not necessarily the ones who are most likely to win in a general election. Rather, successful primary candidates are generally more ideologically extreme than their general constituency because primary voters are generally more ideologically extreme way from a more moderate position. The story goes that primary elections put candidates in ideologically extreme positions that are a disadvantage when trying to attract support from more moderate voters.
Is that what we saw yesterday? Sort of, but not really. The Democratic establishment candidates have done pretty well, generally fending off challengers from the left (excluding the PA Senate race as Arlen Specter could hardly be considered an establishment candidate). On the other hand, the Republican party has seen its establishment candidates lose regularly to Tea Partiers - Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Kentucky - to name a few.
So what's missing? Well, it seems that not all primary voters are as extreme as we like to think that they are. Rather, we need to consider that primary voters, and the supporters in charge of GOTV campaigns, ebb and flow in response to the broader political climate. Right now in the Democratic party, the GOTVers and primary voters aren't nearly as ideological as they are pragmatic. On the other side, the Republican party is riding a wave they are having trouble controlling: the Tea Party movement is certainly bringing in a lot of enthusiasm but at the same time, seems to be pushing the GOP farther to the right than they want to be.
Oh, for the days before the Progressive Era reforms, eh Mitch McConnell?