The first of the mini-Super Tuesdays has come and gone, and both parties can find things to cheer about.
In the Keystone state, the Democrats nominated the candidate they considered more electable -- Joe Sestak. Republican nominee Pat Toomey led both Arlen Specter and Sestak in head-to-head match-ups, but the match-up with Sestak was closer in recent weeks. For months, Specter had touted his better numbers versus Toomey as compared to Sestak versus Toomey. Once that changed, Specter lost about the only advantage he had. Democrats did not grow to love him in the year since his party switch, and Sestak ran to his left, where most of the activist Democrats are at this point.
While total Democratic turnout was higher than total GOP turnout (comparable to the Democratic Party's registration advantage in the Commonwealth), Toomey received 102,000 more votes in the GOP primary than Sestak did in the Democratic race, winning near 82% of the GOP vote. Toomey was a popular choice among Republicans; Sestak may have more trouble uniting the Democrats. His problems could come in several areas, including his very liberal social agenda and an anti-gun position in a state where, outside the Philadelphia area, there are many conservative Democrats. He may also have problems with Jewish voters due to his flirtation with groups hostile to Israel. I think this race leans to the GOP and will make for a pretty clear ideological battle in November.
The GOP lost another special election yesterday in Pennsylvania-12, the contest for the seat held for 36 years by John Murtha. Murtha legislative aide Mark Critz won a solid 9% victory over Republican Tim Burns. The two men will face each other again in November. Critz tried to run to the right of Burns, accusing Burns of having a history of supporting tax increases. Critz campaigned as a pro-life and pro-gun conservative Democrat, who would have voted against the health care reform bill and cap-and-trade.
This is almost a perfect reflection of the majority of voters in the District, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin but are lukewarm at best to left-wing Democrats like Barack Obama. The district was the only one in the country that supported John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. Critz had another advantage in that both parties had nominating primaries for the same House seat in the November election, and the very competitive U.S. Senate race likely attracted more Democrats to the polls; 83,000 voted in the Democratic primary, and only 46,000 in the Republican primary in the 12th District House races. Critz received 59,000 votes in his primary, Burns 26,000 in the GOP primary, which was more closely contested. Critz beat Burns by 12,000 in the special election, suggesting that many Democrats crossed over to Burns in the special election. Still, I would make Critz a favorite to retain the seat in November.
The Democrats are smiling today in Kentucky. They got the candidate they wanted to run on their side -- Jack Conway -- and the Republicans nominated Rand Paul, the candidate Democrats wanted to run against. Democrats and their media allies will smear Paul as a candidate who is out of the mainstream and a "kook" on foreign policy issues, like his father. In head-to-head match-ups before the primaries, Trey Grayson, the establishment GOP candidate, had better numbers than Paul against both Conway and Dan Mongiardo, the candidate Conway narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary. In fact, the closest match-up was Paul versus Conway, which Paul led by 4%. Democrats may underestimate the strength of Paul's appeal. Conway ran better in the cities, with support from minority voters and unions, than he did in the rural areas of Kentucky. Rand will likely win big margins in rural areas, as did Mongiardo in the primary. Kentucky is more dependably Republican in presidential elections than in other federal elections, but I think Paul is a slight favorite to hold Jim Bunning's seat in November for the GOP.
The Senate primary in Arkansas could not have gone better for the GOP. Congressman John Boozman won the GOP primary outright in an eight-candidate race with 53% of the vote, thereby avoiding a runoff. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln won her primary by 45% to 43% over Bill Halter, and an expensive runoff will be required to select the eventual nominee. Halter ran to the left of Lincoln, and that is dangerous in a blue-dog Democratic state like Arkansas should he be the nominee. Boozman holds solid leads over both Halter and Lincoln and is a strong favorite to win this seat in November.
The biggest GOP victory yesterday may have been in Connecticut, where there was no primary. Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the darling of the trial lawyers, seemed to be coasting to an easy victory in November, after Chris Dodd, facing near-certain defeat, announced he would not run again. Then the New York Times ran a story that Blumenthal had repeatedly lied about having served in Viet Nam. It is hard to imagine the stupidity of a politician believing in today's day and age that such a whopper would not be caught. Blumenthal released a video of another talk in which he admitted he never served in Viet Nam. Does that make the original lie better? Can he make up his mind on the matter? Some people lie so often that they begin to believe their own lies. Blumenthal held a news conference yesterday flanked by veterans, and he admitted to having misspoken on a few occasions. "Misspoken"? Odd word for a bald-faced lie. In any case, before the Times story, Blumenthal led his likely GOP opponent -- either Linda McMahon (the wife of Vince McMahon, the founder of the World Wrestling Federation) or former Congressman Rob Simmons -- by about 20%. A snap poll by Rasmussen shows that Blumenthal has taken a heavy hit, now with a 3% lead over McMahon and an 11% lead on Simmons. There are more fabrications to get more exposure, including one about Blumenthal having captained the Harvard swim team, of which he was never even a team member. Would reporters have invented the swim team stories in their profiles of Blumenthal in years past without Blumenthal having provided that information?
A seat the Democrats thought was safe is now in play again. McMahon, an unconventional candidate to be sure, can self-fund and really raise the price of the game for Blumenthal if he weathers the storm and stays in the race. Simmons is a New England-style Republican (in the Scott Brown mold), probably more in tune with the state's center of gravity politically. I think McMahon is the favorite to be the nominee, and this race is back in the "tossup" or "slightly lean Democratic" category.
With Connecticut back in play, the GOP's chances to regain control of the Senate are slightly improved. Control will require a net pickup of ten seats, a very tall order. The GOP has to defend six vulnerable seats: North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, and New Hampshire. Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, and North Carolina, in that order, probably represent the best Democratic targets. The GOP now has its sights on at least twelve Democrat-held seats and leads in eight of them -- North Dakota, Delaware, Indiana, Nevada, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Illinois. The GOP is within striking range in California, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Washington. It is unlikely that the GOP will win every close race or almost every close race so as to win back a majority in 2010. But the party seems very likely to make major gains. Richard Baehr is chief poltiical correspondent of American Thinker.