Super Tuesday shakes up political landscape

SUPER TUESDAY SHAKES UP POLITICAL LANDSCAPE…. I’ve seen some media accounts arguing that yesterday offered bitter news for Democrats. The New York Daily Newslede said, “Tuesday’s balloting is a fresh reminder of what all the combatants have understood for months: It’s a lousy year to be a Democrat, an incumbent or President Obama.”

I don’t quite see it that way. Indeed, it seems Dems and progressive activists are waking up this morning with broad smiles on their faces — and new-found optimism about the 2010 cycle.

In terms of the key statewide races, let’s take them one at a time.

Pennsylvania

What happened: Rep. Joe Sestak defeated incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic Senate primary, 54% to 46%.

Analysis: Like all incumbents, Specter enjoyed the support of the party establishment, and his eight-point defeat is being characterized as part of a larger anti-incumbent, anti-establishment wave. But Specter’s case was rather unique — he was a Republican for more than three decades, and ads presenting him as an ally of Bush and Palin were fairly devastating.

What’s next: Sestak will face former congressman and right-wing activist Pat Toomey (R) in November. Republicans were reluctant to admit it out loud, but they saw Specter as easier to beat, and recent polls show Sestak as the stronger general election candidate. Dems’ chances of keeping the seat very likely improved with yesterday’s results.

Kentucky

What happened: Right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul defeated Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson in a Republican Senate primary, 59% to 35%. State Attorney General Jack Conway defeated Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo in the Democratic Senate primary 44% to 43%.

Analysis: Paul’s landslide primary victory is the exact opposite of what Republican leaders, who worked hard to recruit Grayson, had in mind for this race. It suggests the Kentucky GOP base has become significantly radicalized, and at least in Kentucky, the so-called Tea Party “movement” carries more weight than the Republicans’ elected leaders. Conway’s success, meanwhile, is another victory for progressives, over the more conservative Mongiardo.

What’s next: Conway, the more progressive of the two Dems, hopes to present himself as the mainstream alternative to Paul’s extremism, while the GOP has to pretend it doesn’t mind its nominee’s bizarre beliefs.

Arkansas

What happened: Incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln edged Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a Democratic Senate primary, 45% to 42%, falling short of the 50% she’d need to avoid a runoff. Rep. John Boozman won a multi-candidate Republican Senate primary with 54% support.

Analysis: While most of the media coverage is, again, suggesting that Lincoln’s troubles are part of an anti-incumbent wave, the truth is Lincoln’s voting record has generated ill will between her and Democratic voters. Halter’s success was largely the result of enthusiastic support from the progressive base and labor unions.

What’s next: Lincoln and Halter will face off again in a runoff in three weeks. As with Pennsylvania, Republicans perceive Lincoln as more vulnerable in the general election, but are loath to say so out loud.