With the Delaware victory of O'Donnel in the Republican Primary race, odds makers are apoplectic about predicting November's results. It was a "victory" for the Tea Party and a defeat for the moderate mainstream Republicans in Delaware. There have been more than a handful of such victories for the Tea Party since Primary season began. But, does it portend anything reliable for November's results? The answer is no, and here's why.
A number of those 24,000 Republicans who voted for Christine O'Donnel yesterday were not necessarily Tea Party supporters. Some were Republicans who have joined the anti-incumbent movement, and Castle, O'Donnel's rival, was a career politician. How many of these voters influenced the primary's results? No one knows. Even if a poll is done to try to determine which O'Donnel voters were Tea Partyers and which were not, it would likely produce unreliable results. The simple reason is that folk's position on the anti-incumbent movement and the Tea Party are in flux, dynamic, and intermixed.
At a time when polling shows Tea Party support amongst the general public at 29%, roughly the same number as registered Republicans, and anti-incumbent sentiment growing, the challenge of trying to predict November's outcome from these Primary results is impossible. The Tea Party represents a diverse set of opinions on policy issues, many arguing for fiscal constraint but, also for government involvement in job creation and other economic stimulus programs.
The Anti-incumbent movement is pervasive throughout the electorate, affecting Democratic, Independent, and Republican voters. What effect will the anti-incumbent movement have on Party loyalists? The perception that the anti-incumbent wave is taking over may result in some or many party line voters not showing up on Election Day, especially in those cases where the choice is between the voter's Party incumbent and the opposition Party. Will this affect Democratic more than Republican candidates? That is impossible to say, because of the Tea Party. It may be the case that moderate Republicans having only a Tea Party candidate to vote for, will also be less inclined to show up on Election Day, or abstain from voting on that particular race.
The Tea Party does not make sense to many moderate Republicans. Many moderate Republicans understand that we can't have fiscal restraint and fiscal stimulus at the same time. These are opposites which cancel each others' effectiveness out if implemented simultaneously. Moderate Republicans understand that during a Recession or sluggish economy, stimulus is needed to get the economy back on its feet. Tea Party leaders and candidates are insisting on fiscal restraint, regardless of the unemployment rate, lack of consumer demand and economic growth, and should they have their way, the economy would slow down even more, costing even more jobs and wage cuts, and losses of government services from education tuition assistance to roads and bridge maintenance and repair. If moderate Republican voters are given the choice between a Tea Party candidate and a conservative Democrat in November, many may well vote for the Democratic candidate. How many is unknowable until the results are in.
O'Donnel's Tea Party victory has already created an ongoing debate between former Bush adviser Karl Rove and RNC Chair Michael Steele. Rove publicly spoke of O'Donnel's liability in the general election due to her mismanagement of funds, being motivated by money, and several lies she has maintained to the public about her education and career. Chairman Steele publicly told her critics to "Stop It", referring to Rove's and others comments about O'Donnel's dubious personal history. One guest on MSNBC's Joe Scarborough show yesterday referred to the Tea Party as a Tiger and the GOP being forced to climb on the back of that Tiger, noting that when one rides a Tiger, one goes wherever that Tiger chooses to go. It had a ring of validity to it.
Some Republicans fear that O'Donnel's victory has cost the GOP a potential majority in the Senate already. They cite the fact that Delaware is a state that generally votes Democratic, not Republican, and with O'Donnel's record so easy to use against her in November's elections, the hopes of a win for the GOP in Delaware's Senate race, crucial to winning a majority, are now dashed. Other Republican pundits are arguing that the anti-incumbent wave may well work against the Democratic candidate and put O'Donnel over the top in Delaware despite her alleged record of lying to the public, being debt ridden, and having mismanaged her personal and campaign finances.
Predictability about November's elections is, indeed, becoming more difficult as a result of the anti-incumbent movement and sentiment. This lack of predictability for incumbent candidates and parties is precisely one of the main objectives of the 4 year old political action committee called Vote Out Incumbents for Democracy, or VOID. VOID has argued since its inception that when incumbents can no longer predict the odds of their winning reelection, they will be forced to address the concerns the majority of voters share in common, as a means of winning back anti-incumbent voter's support. If they address and resolve those concerns, America will have more accountable and responsive government.
A number of journalists and pundits have argued back and forth in the media about the effects of the anti-incumbent, anti-politician sentiment on the Primary races as they have unfolded, with many incumbents winning and some losing their Party's bid. A basic flaw in their analysis however, is in expecting anti-incumbent sentiment to show up in primary races in any significant way, at all.
Primaries are largely attended by the political party's loyalists. In general, those voters will be motivated by the best interests of their parties victories in the general election. While the Tea Party is waging an anti-incumbent war on some Republican incumbents in the primaries, the largest anti-incumbent block of voters are not Tea Party voters, or Democratic party loyalists, but, Independent voters. Independent voters, in most states, don't get to participate in the Primaries of the Republican and Democratic Party races. It is not possible therefore, to assess the potential of the anti-incumbent vote by the Primary results. The potency of the anti-incumbent movement can only be fully measured in the general election.