No Clarity in Tea Leaves

Posted May 20, 2010, at 5:20 p.m.

Much has been made of Tuesday’s election results in several states. Some see them as an indication that the Tea Party is poised to take over the Republican Party. Others see the results, especially the defeat of Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, as evidence that the public is ready to vote out establishment candidates. Such observations should be tempered by the old mantra “all politics are local.”

Take Pennsylvania, for example. Sen. Specter was most likely not rejected in the state’s Democratic primary because he was a long-time senator and hence part of the Washington establishment. He was rejected because he’d been a Democrat for a little over a year. The political opportunist defected from the Republican Party last year for fear that he couldn’t win a GOP primary because of his support for the stimulus bill and other measures opposed by Republicans.

Democratic voters, in a move that should surprise no one, decided to support the real Democrat on the ballot, Rep. Joe Sestak.

In Kentucky, Republican voters chose Tea Party-backed Rand Paul over Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who had run campaign ads touting his support from Republican leaders in Washington. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is from Kentucky, backed Mr. Grayson, as did former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mark Watson, a writer for The North Star National, a group of syndicated writers, observed that Mr. Paul, the son of Rep. Ron Paul, ran a smart race that made the most of Internet fundraising as well as supporters on the ground. Mr. Grayson, on the other hand, was arrogant and overconfident and ran a disjointed campaign that lacked focus, according to Mr. Watson.

So, yes, Mr. Paul was more conservative, but he also ran a better campaign. Looking at only one factor could lead to the wrong conclusion.

In Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln received more votes than her more liberal challenger Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in the Democratic primary, but neither candidate received the required 50.1 percent votes, so there will be a runoff.

Then there was the race to fill Democratic Rep. John Murtha’s seat in Pennsylvania — the only race Tuesday that pitted a Democrat against a Republican. Democrat Mark Critz handily beat Republican Tim Burns in a district that had strongly supported John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Mr. Burns was backed by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.

So, what is the message of these results? Voters decide each race on their own set of standards, not some type of national movement.

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