ANALYSIS: First Round Of 2018 Primaries Concludes

Election Update
Will you vote in the primaries?

The results are in from yesterday’s primary elections in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Idaho, and Oregon, and they are certainly intriguing.

Democrat women won a number of hard-fought primary challenges in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Idaho. Notably, in PA a pair of Democratic women, Madeleine Dean and Mary Scanlon, won primaries for districts in the Philadelphia suburbs that are very likely to go Democrat in the general election.

But otherwise, yesterday was pretty painful for the swampy moderates that tend to win Democratic primary races. Leftist candidates beat out their more moderate rivals in PA where a progressive named Susan Wild beat a host of more moderate male candidates, and in Nebraska where Kara Eastman, a progressive woman, beat out a former Rep named Brad Ashford, a moderate ex-Republican.

Kara Eastman’s win was narrow, and also an upset. Brad Ashford had previously been the sitting congressman in that District in the past, until he was unseated by Republican Don Bacon in 2016. But Ashford was determined to regain his seat and he had high recognition and party support.

He had been named to the DCCC’s “Red-to-Blue” list of favored challengers. But he was beaten by Kara Eastman, in her first political outing. Eastman energized Omaha liberals with a progressive message, including a “Medicare-for-All” platform.

Eastman’s win has the mealy-mouthed progressive wing of the Democratic party feeling smug. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal grassroots PAC, said Tuesday night that Eastman’s win should be a sign for Democrat candidates. PCCC wrote that, in 2018, the way to inspire voters “is to campaign on a bold progressive agenda of Medicare for All, higher wages for workers, and other economic populist ideas that help working families and challenge corporate power.”

Which is probably not too far off the mark, frankly. Americans are sick of corrupt career politicians who seem to go to Washington exclusively to hold meetings with special interest groups. If a politician can’t connect with the needs of regular people, they’re not going to last long.

Because at the end of the day, despite the political ads that corporate and special-interest money will buy you, you still need to be able to convince the actual people in your district to vote for you.

It makes sense that political populism is having its moment right now. That’s not to say that only hard-left populism was successful last night (in Oregon 16-term career congressman Peter DeFazio won his primary yet again, with more than 90 percent of the vote), but in races where a populist-progressive was running against some kind of wishy-washy moderate Democrat, the races went to the more populist, more progressive candidates.

That’s not necessarily evidence of a coming liberal-driven “Democrat wave,” despite what the media talking heads would have you believe. But it is evidence that the general message that’s resonating with Democratic voters today is anti-establishment, populist, and more in favor of political outsiders.

On the Republican side of things, the takeaway is almost totally different. Incumbents won their seats back without any real difficulty. The closest race was in PA, a rematch between incumbent GOP Rep. Lloyd Smucker and his second cousin, Chet Beiler, who funded his own campaign. (Smucker defeated his cousin the first time in 2016 in a tremendously nasty race that included a lot of personal attacks and negative ads on both sides.)

Additionally, a sitting House Republican, Lou Barletta, won the race to face off with incumbent Democrat Senator Bob Casey in PA. Even with a last minute robo-call from Trump rallying voters on his behalf, Barletta only won against his opponent, Jim Christiana (a poorly-funded state rep) with 63 percent of the vote. Worse than that, he’s already polling 10 points behind the swamplord Bob Casey for their race this coming November.

In addition to these unsurprising and uninspiring wins, Conservative groups didn’t have much of an impact in this set of GOP primaries. In PA’s 13th district, there were eight primary candidates. Club for Growth and House Freedom Action, a pair of conservative organizations, both advised voters not to vote for the winning candidate, John Joyce. Club for Growth paid for TV ads in the district saying “If you want a congressman who will stand with President Trump, you don’t want John Joyce.”

Joyce won anyway, with a little under 22 percent of the vote in the eight-way race. His closest opponent finished with 20 percent.

No doubt Club for Growth is hoping for a better outcome next week in Texas. It seems so far that the Dems will have more energetic grassroots candidates than the GOP in the midterms this year. Whether that will transfer into general-election success or not remains to be seen.