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A Good Primary Season for the GOP

Christine O'Donnell is the exception that proves the rule.

10:15 AM, Sep 15, 2010 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The seven-month primary season, which began on Feb. 2 in Illinois, is over. Republicans and conservatives should be pleased by the results.

A Good Primary Season for the GOP

1. Voters flocked to participate in GOP primaries. National Republican turnout in 2010 has comfortably exceeded Democratic primary turnout. This is as good an indicator as the generic congressional ballot polls as to where the voters are going: They're going to vote for Republicans this November.

Incidentally, as Michael Barone has consistently pointed out after earlier primary nights this year, the difference can't simply be explained by the greater number of competitive Republican primaries. For example, last night in MA 10, a Democratic open seat, there were competitive races in both parties (the Democratic primary was actually the more competitive one). About 51,000 people voted in the GOP primary compared to about 56,000 in the Democratic. Given the historical tendency of many Republican-inclined voters to register as independents in Massachusetts and therefore not to show up for primaries, one has to think the GOP candidate in MA 10, starting from an almost even playing field in primary turnout, has a 50-50 chance this November. And MA 10 is down around #60 in the rankings of most likely GOP pickups.

2. Christine O'Donnell is the exception to the rule that Republicans have, on the whole, nominated strong, electable and conservative candidates in key Senate, gubernatorial, and House races. GOP House nominees in particular seem very formidable—lots of young, impressive, and well-qualified non-career politicians who are well-positioned to maximize gains from the wave that will sweep in a lot of them in any case this November. Republican candidates for governor are running good races in tough states like CA and IL and OR, and Scott Walker, who won last night in Wisconsin, should have a very good shot there. And for what it's worth, I suspect Rick Scott will turn out to be a better nominee than Bill McCollum would have been in Florida, and I wouldn't be surprised if Carl Paladino could cause trouble for Andrew Cuomo in New York.

In the Senate, Christine O'Donnell will almost certainly lose a seat that could have been won (cf. Oliver North taking the Republican nomination in Virginia in 1994 and losing that winnable seat—Republicans still won the Senate). Sharron Angle is the other somewhat problematic GOP Senate nominee who might give away a likely pickup, though I suspect she wins. But from Ron Johnson (WI) to Carly Fiorina (CA) to Dino Rossi (WA) to Linda McMahon (CT) to John Raese (WV), the GOP has ended up with good candidates with a reasonable chance to upset Democratic incumbents or quasi-incumbents (Blumenthal in CT, Manchin in WV) in states where the Democrats would have been expected to be shoo-ins a few months ago.

3. Tea Party activism, enthusiasm and, yes, rebelliousness have been, on net, a very good thing for the GOP. Now in politics as in life, there can be, on occasions, too much of a good thing. Thus Delaware. But it's still much, much better to be the party to which independents and new voters are flocking, and in which activists are energized, than not. And it's better for the GOP, as the out party, that the anti-establishment and anti-incumbent wave is still building (which it clearly is) rather than ebbing. A year ago, the liberal media hoped tea partiers were going to generate suicidal third-party challenges, scare off independents from the Republicans, and generally destroy the Republican party. It turns out they've probably cost the GOP one Senate seat on the way to a huge off-year election victory. It's a small price to pay.

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