Will the Wisconsin Recall results really affect November?

Next Tuesday political analysts and interested parties will tune into the WI recall results.  From those results they will try to glean every little iota of data there is to be drawn from the results.  Many news outlets and analysts are already clearly out on the record stating an emphatic Walker win will mean WI is competitive in November.  If Walker loses however then the polls showing the presidential race in the state tightening are likely just statistical noise and the state GOP will be extremely demoralized heading into November.

Hearing pundits come out and speculate what future election results mean is nothing new.  After-all, it is what they are paid to do.  But is there still something to WI possibly being more competitive come November depending on the recall?  Could the GOP have a better shot here if Walker survives the recall?

It is not surprising to find the recall race has sucked all the air out of the presidential race in the state.  Both President Obama and GOP nominee Romney have stayed under the radar in the state.  Obama has clearly stated on numerous occasions he does not support Walker’s policies but has deferred to the notion of it being a state issue.  Romney has been clear in backing Walker but has largely stayed on message attacking Obama on a national level.

Partisans on both sides are fired up not because of the presidential election but because of the recall.  In the recall primaries on May 8th, over 650,000 Republicans showed up to back Walker when he had no opposition.  On the other side almost 700,000 Democratic voters showed up to cast a ballot in a contentious 4-way primary.  Not surprisingly in numerous surveys partisans overwhelmingly back Romney and Obama in the general election and Walker and Barrett in the recall.  In the most recent Marquette University survey independents favored Walker in the recall and Romney in the general.  And Romney’s upward surge in the survey is largely attributed to Republicans being more galvanized to defend Walker in a week.

Not surprisingly the recall has divided Wisconsin along familiar lines.  For both Obama and Romney that presents problems.  Obama performed well in Northern Wisconsin in 2008 but Walker is strong there.  The rural counties Obama did well in 2008 now seem to favor Walker and are unlikely to give Obama a 40% share of the vote come November. Similarly, Romney dominated Milwaukee in the GOP primary against Santorum.  But Milwaukee voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Walker (70%) and that means Romney will likely struggle to win moderate voters in the city who might otherwise support him.

There appears to be strong overlap between the recall and the presidential race.  As mentioned above Romney has surged as Walker has surged. Romney has also benefited from an engaged GOP base.  In the latest Marquette survey more of the electorate identified as Republican than Democratic.  This a substantial change from February when collecting petitions for the recall was in full swing.  An amazing 91% of Republicans said they were certain to vote while 83% of Democrats said the same.  Independents were slightly below Democrats in regards to the percentage planning to vote.  And it appears Romney has benefited from his excited partisans ready to vote just as Obama has struggled from Democrats making up less of the electorate.

And here is where the results in WI could matter.  For all the ideological chatter of this being a life and death struggle between the right and the left, conservatives vs. liberals, free marketers vs. union thugs this race is really simply coming down to turnout.  Polls show Walker’s lead is narrow, albeit it stable lately, and his job approval has not dipped below 46% or topped 53%.  And if recent polls hold up Walker will survive because his base is ready to fall on their swords defending him at the ballot box.  For both Romney and Obama that could be huge in November.

It is likely that a Walker win in WI would keep the grassroots engaged and ready to defeat Obama in November.  Even the unexciting candidacy of Mitt Romney could be given a new sheen if Walker pulls off the victory and boosts the grassroots.  By the same token Obama seems to have realized this.  A win in WI would make the left extremely happy and fight hard in November but state Democrats and union officials are already unhappy with the administration.  They claim they have not received enough money or help.  Since Obama has distanced himself from the recall he hopes to limit the impact of the recall results on his candidacy.  Thus the candidate more likely to suffer or benefit from the recall results is Romney.

Wisconsin is shaping up to look like 2004 all over again.  In that race Kerry edged Bush by just over 10,000 ballots out of over three million cast.  The stakes were high and the politics of the state were deeply polarized.  The recall and the 2012 presidential election look to be no different.  In 2004 Democrats were surprised by the turnout of Republicans in small counties.  Democrats had largely focused on maximizing turnout in Madison and Milwaukee.  In 2012 if a Walker win heralds a Romney surge in the state in November they could be surprised again.  Except this time Romney would receive stronger support from the new and growing GOP bastions in the SE suburbs as well as rural counties.


The ultimate party of patronage

It seems ironic that the Democratic Party was founded on being against the current principles they now espouse.  The Democratic Party was founded against the ideas of clientalism and patronage.  Andrew Jackson, the famous general and two term president, was best known for being the founder of the party and defending the little guy, the farmer, the urban worker, the pioneer, etc.  This attracted the average joe of the 19th century to the party.

At this point in history the GOP was not around.  Instead you had the Democrats, Democratic Republicans (modern-day Democratic Party) and the Whigs.  The Whigs would die out around 1850 when the GOP was formed.  Their signature issue of finances having run its course in winning the presidency once in their party’s short history.  The Democratic Party would find a base in the urban North as the populist Democratic Republicans found a home in rural and populist Andrew Jackson America (Appalachia) and the South.

The GOP would be founded with the blessing of disaffected Whigs and Democrats and find its home in the Industrial North, gobbling up Democratic voters.  And after the Civil War the GOP would preside, over the period of several presidencies, a vast expansion of the nation in terms of population and economic growth.  Yet through it all the Democratic Party survived and even thrived in areas of the country.  Not even Grover Cleveland’s inept handling of the Crisis of 1893 could change the appeal the populist message of the Democrats carried.

Starting at the dawn of the 20th century the Democratic party would begin to change.  Prominent Democratic pols in Chicago, New York and Boston gained fame by running City Hall like it was a trading post;  blatantly exchanging favors for votes.  Still, the Democratic Party was the party of populism and the little guy.  Populist issues such as the right to unionize and for women to vote were the bread and butter of the party’s faithful.  Woodrow Wilson’s presidency reshaped the Democratic Party.  In a way Wilson could be called the father of modern progressiveness and openly abandoning the party’s populist roots.

After Calvin Coolidge’s failed presidency the larger than life progressive president FDR came to power.  FDR proved to be the master at catering to the new clients the party had picked up starting with Wilson.  He appealed the average worker through programs such as Social Security and the Public Works Administration, he bought off Southern whites with a promise to leave the issues of segregation and civil rights alone, and appealed to the managerial class with his strong hand and stewardship.  Even when the economy dovetailed for the first time in 1936 he won reelection (doing his precursor Wilson proud).

With the end of WWII and a growing economy however the old client groups the party had picked up shifted.  By the 60s the Democratic Party now had to appeal to African-Americans, feminists, environmentalists, anti-war activists and Southern whites.  It is no surprise that the party could not do it.  Perhaps if Kennedy survived past 1964 it could have but already the party was making trade-offs.  The Civil Rights Act paid off African-Americans but began to cost them white Southerners.  And this under a Southern Democratic president no less.  The pursuance of the Equal Rights Amendment appealed to feminists but not middle America.

The GOP has never really been the party of populism but with the Democratic Party shedding populist Southern whites the GOP suddenly found itself growing through economically populist and socially conservative members.  The GOP has been able to balance this change largely because the party is so economically and racially homogeneous.

But the Democratic Party continued to struggle to balance its interests.  Jimmy Carter failed disastrously.  His “all-man” presidency fizzled with the recession of 1979 and he managed somehow to turn off both middle America and Southern populists.  Ronald Reagan’s presidency ushered in a decade of GOP dominance at the executive level.  Beneath the GOP dominance of the executive level control of the Democratic Party’s message was debated.  The Democratic Party had to find a way to appeal to its interest groups.  For the next decade the party would try to find its answer at the executive level with liberal presidential candidates from the Northeast.  That didn’t turn out well.

In 1992 the party would return to its populist roots in Bill Clinton.  Clinton, with his Southern populist message proved the party could still use the message effectively.  But as soon as Clinton entered the Oval Office the party’s interest groups all clamored for attention.  Clinton at first tried to appeal to liberal interests alone.  Perhaps he focused on the wrong interests.  He tried to appeal urban liberals and gun control advocates with passage of the Brady Bill.  He tried to get Healthcare Reform (a single payer based system) through to make UHC advocates happy.   But ironically Clinton ran head-first into the populist Southern Democrats he represented in 1992.  What would follow would be the GOP Revolution of 1994 and Southern white populists abandoning the party over its cronyist practices.  Southern populists did not want to abandon Clinton and his return to centrist politics after 1994 ensured their support for the president once again, if not for the Democratic Party as a whole.

The modern millennium’s politics have been rocked by turmoil and upheaval.  The 2000 presidential election was mired in controversy.  September 11, 2001 went down in history as a day America would never forget.  The Iraq liberation in 2003.  The Financial Meltdown of 2007 culminating in the election of America’s first African-American president.  Electoral instability has also hit American voters with massive Democratic wins in 2006 and 2008 and the Tea Party wave of 2010 favoring the GOP.  But the modern foundation of the Democratic Party has not changed.

Then presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008 had the luxury of not having to appeal to particular constituencies.  He was everything to an electorate hungry for change.  This did not stop the President from pursuing a strategy based on a clientalist system after he was elected however.  In his first two years Healthcare Reform was a buy-off to the insurance companies, liberals and feminists.  Financial Reform has done little to strengthen the financial system but it sure has made bankers, attorneys and hedge fund managers happy.  Cap and Trade was a favor to all of the above groups and then some.

Indeed the president’s current campaign strategy seems to be to try to hold this amalgamation of Democratic clients together just long enough to get reelected.  Already he is playing to core client groups.  He is courting the young with student loans, environmentalists with claims the EPA would be abolished, feminists and single women with the familiar leftist siren call of Roe vs. Wade being overturned if he is defeated in November.  Not surprising missing from the president’s rhetoric is a message on economic populism to help the little guy.   Perhaps Obama is learning for the party to continue its clientalistic practices it has to shed old clients to make way for the new.

It is sad to see what the party of Andrew Jackson has become.  The party of populism has now become the party of urban , minority and client interests alone.  Gone is the message of helping the little guy.  Gone is the wing of the party that once represented Andrew Jackson’s views.  Attrition has taken its toll as both Jacksonian voters and politicians have fled the party.

The absence of the populism in the Democratic Party has left a vacuum in American politics many voters see but can do nothing about.  The GOP and Democrats increasingly continue to cater to the interests of partisans and  special interests at the expense of America.  For a vibrant two-party democracy to survive the little guy must have a voice.  Right now he does not.

Will social issues impact the 2012 Presidential race?

In a presidential election year when the economy should take center stage social issues have roiled the political landscape.  The president in his bid to fire up the grassroots has warned of Roe vs. Wade being overturned while surrogates of Romney (mainly Rick Santorum) have voiced worries about the survival of the traditional family in America.  Recent developments and the campaign’s latest tactics now beg the question whether social issues will play a role in the 2012 presidential race?  And if they do how much?

Social issues have been at play in the presidential race since late February when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unveiled with the WH a new Obamacare regulation stating that private religious entities (excluding churches only) would be forced to violate their beliefs and provide contraception in their Healthcare coverage to employees.  The counter-reaction was swift and fierce with Romney and then GOP candidate Rick Santorum condemning the move (more so Santorum).  The White House appeared to back down by unveiling a compromise but it did little but change the language of the regulation.

Since than social conservative groups and the American Catholic Church have kept the issue alive.  Most recently, the Catholic Church filed suit arguing the regulation forces them to violate their religious conscience and thus the 1st Amendment.  They have a recent Supreme Court ruling on their side.  In January the Court ruled unanimously that religious employees cannot sue their employer if they violate the religious aspects of their contract.  The court did leave a murky hole where they could have been more clear but it was obvious they sided with freedom of religion vs. work environment related issues.

While the case is likely to get to the SCOTUS, regardless of the rulings of the lower courts, it is unclear how it could affect the 2012 race.  The president’s announcement in support of gay marriage was supposed to galvanize his young followers.  Instead, while they cheered a solid 2/3rds of the public said the president only did it for political reasons.

Social issues have long been defined as the other “third rail” of politics.  Abortion, gay marriage, repealing Roe vs. Wade gun control or no, etc. have been used by both parties consistently in elections to garner votes.  In this election we can likely add another to the list, equal pay for women.  While these issues may play to the party’s bases independents may not be so receptive to a campaign based on social issues in this kind of economy.  In survey after survey social issues ranked low on voters priorities and the only surveys it registered in as an issue were in certain GOP primaries.

Recently Gallup unveiled its yearly survey on religion and values in the US.  Taken from 1024 adults the poll found 50% identified as pro-life and 41% pro-choice.  This is a startling gap since 2000 when voters split at 46%.  On the issue of contraception 84% said it was morally acceptable and 9% did not.  In terms of the using the death penalty 54% said it was moral and 32% did not.  Lastly, 54% of adults consider having kids out of marriage morally acceptable and 42% do not.

For both parties there are instructive bits of information to be gleaned from the poll.  First, the contraception issue is unlikely to change voters minds.  Second, the lines on what is pro-life and pro-choice are becoming less defined among the Millennial Generation.  In a Pew survey on religion last year a full 40% of those pro-life said their view of the abortion depended on the circumstances.  Very few of the younger voters in the survey identified as strongly pro-life or pro-choice as opposed to older voters.

In the past social issues have played a so-so to big impact on presidential races.  In 2000 George Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative” who was pro-life.  Al Gore hedged and avoided talking about the issue (explains why he lost TN so bad).  In 2004 social issues played a large part in Bush’s reelection win.  In dozens of states, several swing states in fact, amendments put on the ballot to add language to the states constitutions banning gay marriage.  This is widely credited with bringing many social conservatives, young and old, to the polls.  In 2008, with the economy collapsing and a hip young Democratic candidate for president social issues, including the president’s extreme view on abortion, were glossed over.

It is likely that the campaigns will target social issues to bring out their bases.  The GOP will bring out socially conservative heroes such as Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.  The left is sure to counter with the likes of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.  But the narrow swath of voters both campaigns will try to reach have shown in survey after survey they care about the economy and jobs.  It remains that the economy will be what will decide the election.  Not social issues.

Does the Idaho GOP have a shot at winning in Metro Boise this year?

In deeply Republican Idaho there are only a few places where Democrats can dwell for more than a few election cycles.  Sun Valley, moderate Northern Idaho districts nestled in Nez Perce, Benewah and Latah counties, and metro Boise.  In metro Boise Democrats have found their greatest success winning consecutive elections in multiple seats since 2006.  Only the results in District 18 in 2010 have stalled their electoral success in Idaho’s largest metro area.  This begs the question whether the GOP can compete here?

Certainly the GOP does not need these seats.  They dominate the areas of Boise outside the metro area, win Ada county elections consistently and control the expanding suburbs of Nampa, Eagle, Meridian, Caldwell, etc.  But before 2006 the GOP could compete in these seats.  Elections in metro Boise were competitive between 2000-06.  Pre-2000 the GOP controlled legislature drew maps that dissected Ada County (and Boise) so that Republicans could easily win.  In 2001 the first Idaho Redistricting Commission drew competitive maps in metro Boise which included the 16, 17th, 18th and 19th legislative districts.  Often elections in metro Boise were decided by 100 votes or less during this period.

Metro Boise has changed since 2000 and that change has almost exclusively benefited Democrats.  The growth of Boise State as a metropolitan university has brought an influx of young voters to the city and better job opportunities have brought more minorities to the city.  Many GOP leaning voters have fled metro Boise to the Republican dominated suburbs.  These three factors have largely allowed Democrats to dominate metro Boise elections in recent cycles.

This is not to say every election in Boise is dominated by Democrats.  The current 14th, 15th, 18th, 20th and 21st districts all take in parts of Boise.  The 14th, 15th, 20th, and 21st districts are all controlled by the GOP while the 18th has a split delegation.  But short of 18 none of the GOP dominated districts partly in Boise are in metro Boise.  Even 18, a competitive district since 2006, barely saw two seats go Republican by narrow margins in the 2010 GOP landslide everywhere else.

The new maps legislative maps enacted by the 2nd Redistricting Commission (long story) largely kept the seats of metro Boise unchanged.  This is great news for Democrats.  Some precincts were shuffled around and solidly blue 19 was made slightly more Democratic but overall metro Boise still leans Democratic.  The one exception is 18.  This metro/suburban Southeast Boise district remains competitive under the new lines.  The district has freshman GOP state Rep. Julie Ellsworth and a freshman GOP Senator in Mitch Toryanski.  The lone Democrat Rep. in the district, Phyllis King, has survived two challenges in her reelection bids.

Republicans hope this year with Obama on the ballot and increased turnout from the primary they will be able to compete in 16, 17, and knock out King in 18.  Just going off primary results they have a shot.  More Republicans voted in the legislative primaries in the 16th, 17th and 18th legislative districts.  Still, primaries are one thing.  General elections are another entity entirely.

This election several large factors complicate the GOP’s hopes for a resurgence in metro Boise.  Recently the GOP closed its primaries so only Republicans could vote.  This creates the opportunity for the most ideological candidate to come out of the primary.  In 18 where the Republicans tend to be moderate this did not complicate getting a good challenger to King.  But in both 16 and 17 it allowed for more conservative challengers to emerge in races in the moderate districts.

In 16, 17 and 18 the GOP will also be facing entrenched Democratic incumbents in all but one of those races.  Even Toryanski and Ellsworth will face the same challengers they had in 2010, Brandon Durst and Janie Ward Endelking, both who have name ID in their races.  Short of incumbents Toryanski and Ellsworth the GOP challengers to Democratic incumbents do not have name ID.  They also face the issue of raising money in a state where cash for legislative races is hard to come by.

Finally, whereas an unpopular Democratic president running for president would be a boon for many Republicans running in new seats, Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket makes it even harder for the GOP to compete in metro Boise.  The president has lost some of his luster with the youth vote but the presence of the presidential race at the top of the ticket is sure to drive out the bulk of his young support.  And young voters are unlikely to split their votes down-ballot.

All these factors complicate GOP hopes for a resurgence in metro Boise this year.  It is most likely that with strong incumbents and a strong challenger against Hart in 18 the GOP’s best shot at winning a seat in Metro Boise rests in this metro/suburban swing district.  Of course a lot can happen between now and election day in these legislative races but 16 and 17 have been trending away from the GOP as has 18 though much less so than the latter.  Short of 18 that trend is likely to continue this year and the following decade.

Idaho Dems abhorrant primary turnout illustrates their state woes

Much was made of the consequences the closed primary would have in GOP primary turnouts.  Overall GOP turnout was expected to drop below 2008 due to the closed primary, no presidential primary and a lack of competitive federal election primaries.  The expectation was wrong.

On Tuesday GOP primary turnout in the 1st CD was 71,774.  In the 2nd CD it was 72,726. The prior record for both races was set in 2010.  While both races failed to bust 2010 records they came close.  In the 2nd CD turnout was only 5,000 votes down from 2010 and in the 1st CD it was 10,000.  Let’s all keep in mind that in 2010 there was a competitive GOP gubernatorial primary and Tea Party anger and fervor alive and well in Idaho (not to say it still is not).

But the real story of the night was the Democrat abysmal turnout and the woes it points to. While GOP primary turnout increased by almost 15% in both CD’s from 2008 levels Democratic turnout dropped by almost a third between 2008 and 2012.  In the 1st CD Democratic turnout was 10,076 and this was with a competitive primary.  In 2010 when Rep. Walt Minnick (D) was uncontested Democratic turnout was higher with 11,407 participants. In the 2nd CD Democratic turnout was slightly more robust with 12,427 voters casting their ballots.  Still, this turnout comes as Democrats have a strong liberal challenger in Nicole Lefavour to GOP Congressman Mike Simpson.

Last year two surveys on the partisan landscape of Idaho painted a grim picture for the Democrats.  A GOP aligned poster conducted a survey finding 40% of the Idaho electorate identified as Republican.  A mere 19% identified as Democratic and 41% as Independent.  The Idaho Public Policy Survey (conducted by BSU) found that 38% of the populace identified as Republican, 23% as Democratic and 39% as Independent.  This is not encouraging news.  To be fair to other parties however I must mention the surveys did not offer respondents other party options to identify as.

Unofficial election returns from county and legislative primaries also showed Democratic primary turnout seriously lagging.  This was helped by the fact that in many solidly GOP districts Democrats failed to even field a candidate. 

Democrats maintained up to the primary that keeping their primaries open would allow them to see a boon in participation.  The GOP closing its primary was cited as an example of extreme partisanship and ideology. However, as many expected, a solid majority of voters went to the polls as Republicans just to get their preferred candidate on the ballot for a likely general election win. 

Going forward Democrats face a daunting landscape in terms of becoming more than a minority party in Idaho.  The growth of urban Boise once offered Democrats reasons for hope.  But metro Boise has largely stopped growing and instead the heavily GOP suburbs and exurbs of the city are expanding.  The growth of the Hispanic population offers Democrats a chance to win seats in soon to be minority-majority seats.  But the Hispanic growth is scattered except largely in Nampa and Caldwell.  But the growth of the largest white constituency in the state, Mormons, threatens to cancel out Hispanic growth and it will likely be decades before the Hispanic population even offers Democrats enough votes to get them a majority in the legislature.

The increase in ideological polarization in the Idaho GOP does bode well for Democrats in reaching moderate voters in rural and suburban counties.  But the make-up of the Idaho electorate has shifted right along with the state and national GOP.  Independent conservative voters in Idaho rose as a percentage of the voting public between 2009-2011 in the IPPS.   And in the short-term having an unpopular president at the top of the ticket is unlikely to help.

All these negatives outweighing the positives become a vicious cycle for Democrats.  Much as in neighboring Utah, Democrats in Idaho struggle to recruit quality candidates, let alone any.  Democrats in the state legislature get burned out quickly and retire fast.  This empties the bench of possible strong statewide or federal candidates.  Voters notice this and even if they do not like the GOP will either stay home or participate in GOP primaries to get a moderate candidate on the general election ballot.

 The Idaho Democrat’s abhorrant primary turnout is not surprising.  But it perfectly illustrates the party’s woes in this red state.

How did Idaho’s GOP moderates fair last Tuesday?

Idaho’s first closed primary had the potential to eliminate the remains of the moderate wing of the Idaho GOP.  Last Tuesday that potential never came to fruition.  Instead what we saw could best be described as mixed results.  Even with party infighting and new districts for many incumbents due to redistricting the night saw few notable upsets. 

The party infighting the GOP saw had limited electoral results.  Much of this infighting resulted from the younger and more conservative house trying to eliminate fellow moderate GOP senators.  House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, along with Speaker Lawrence Denney and others donated to a PAC supporting Senator Ken Roberts opponent.  Roberts, from Donnelly, won easily.  Rep. Bob Nonini, CDA, gave money to the opponent of Dean Cameron, Rupert.  Cameron easily survived the challenge.

It was thus not surprising Norm Semanko come out last Wednesday with a call for his party to unite after the primary.  But calling for unity as an outgoing Party Chairman is easier said then done.  More often than not this legislative session the Senate and House GOP were at odds.  Several lawmakers described the situation as “toxic.”  Even worse, the House GOP Caucus was split apart among the dominant conservative wing of the Caucus and the increasingly minority moderate wing.  The Senate had to deal with the fallout from former Senator John McGee.  Many Senators disliked how leadership had disregarded their opinions on keeping McGee in a leadership position.

There were a few notable losses from the night.  In a match-up that pitted two incumbents against each other due to redistricting, Senator Tim. Corder, R-Mt. Home and Senator Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, Brackett won.  Brackett is by no means conservative but he had the luxury of running against a badly damaged Corder.  Corder, during the heated Education Reform debate last April attended an Idaho Education Association meeting and said he opposed the education reforms.  Furthermore he said he would not win a closed primary.  Turns out he was right.

Brackett capitalized on Corder’s mistake and made it a key feature of the race.  Corder, unable to rely solely on the goodwill he had built up with constituents of his old district was thus swept away. 

A number of Senate seats were open this year due to retirements.  Conservative Republican Reps. Steven Thayn, Emmett and Marv Hagadorn, Meridian won their races.  Though both admitted they stuck with the issues votes cared about in the primary they do not expect bad feelings from the primary to be checked at the door.  It continues to look increasingly like relations between the House and Senate will be icy at best.  What could make the situation even worse is the Senate is set to see an influx of new conservative Senators.  If they try to push the Senate to the right with Denney’s and Moyle’s blessing the moderate establishment of the Senate could push back.

If Thayn and Hagadorn thought the party infighting was an issue Senator Shawn Keough, Silverton, was appalled by it.  Keough’s primary campaign was particularly nasty with attacks on her not just being ideological or legislative but also personal. 

Keough summed it up best with her statement to the Idaho Reporter regarding where she sees the party going in Idaho, “There’s definitely a divide in the party and it’s expressed itself in Bonner and Boundary counties and also in Kootenai. I think some folks have become active in our party about four years ago and have really taken it in a different direction that lines up differently than has our traditional Republican Party. It’s very strict ideology.”

In North Idaho where Keough resides this divide within the party has been felt and seen by Rep. Phil Hart R-CDA, being brought up on ethics violations for his refusal to pay federal income taxes.  Hart was narrowly defeated in the primary Tuesday night.  Former Senator Mike Jorgenson tried to regain his seat from freshman Senator Steve Vick.  Vick won easily.  And it was even seen in the Presidential Caucus on March 6th where Ron Paul received his strongest support from North Idaho.

Perhaps the best bit of news for Idaho Republican moderates was seeing Senator Monty Pierce survive a spirited challenge from an upstart conservative challenger.  Pierce, a long-time make no apologies about it moderate looked vulnerable; especially when one included redistricting. 

The Idaho GOP saw mixed results on Tuesday night.  So did the ranks of Idaho’s shrinking moderate Republican ranks.  As for Democrats, well considering their turnout was utterly atrocious, and they had an open primary, they really need to start asking themselves whether they will forever be a minority party in the state?

A Tea Party Takeover of the GOP in 2012

In 2010 the Tea Party took the nation by storm. A purely grassroots movement built on conservative ideals and opposition to the Obama agenda gave the GOP a historic 2010 midterm election.  But despite this fervor and grassroots support the movement also cost the GOP a few key Senate seats.  In NV the Tea Party helped elect firebrand state senator Sharron Angle over establishment favorite Sue Lowden.  In CO the movement fueled Ken Buck to a hard-fought primary win over former Lt. Governor Jane Norton.  And in DE the movement helped put Christine O’Donnell into an election she was not prepared to run over former Governor and longtime Congressman Mike Castle.  These seats considered toss-ups in 2010 ended up in the Democratic column when the election was over.

Since 2010 the Tea Party has largely been quite.  While the Occupy M0vement has gotten headlines and attention with rallies, protests and camp-outs on public property the Tea Party was thought to have gone dormant.  The GOP led House was unable to significantly cut the budget, Mitt Romney prevailed over his more conservative rivals for the GOP presidential nomination (nope, Ron Paul is not winning it at the Convention) and few upsets were scored in Senate or Congressional primaries.  That is until this month.

On May 8th the Tea Party was believed to have scored a major upset in the Indiana GOP Senate Primary when State Treasurer Richard Murdock crushed 6 term GOP Senator Richard Lugar by over 20 points.  Lugar, who had not faced a tough race in almost three decades, ran an abysmal campaign.  Lugar’s campaign was beset by issue after issue and Murdock received the support of millions in outside spending.  Murdock will face Congressman Joe Donnelly (IN-2) in the general election.

And this Tuesday the Tea Party scored another upset in the Nebraska GOP Senate primary.  Little known state senator Deb Fischer came out from nowhere to defeat establishment favorite and state Attorney General Jon Bruning.  Bruning’s campaign long viewed State Treasurer Don Stenburg has his main rival and the two lit up the airwaves with attack ads.  Both candidates did not hit Fischer until late but by then, with an endorsement from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express, Fischer was poised to pull off the upset.  Bruning and Stenburg did attract conservative support from in and outside the state but they did not hold the punch that a Fischer candidacy did by the end of the race.  Fischer will face former two term Governor and Senator Bob Kerrey in the general.

Fueled by these upsets minds are now turning to several upcoming primaries in TX, UT and WI where the Tea Party may see opportunities to get their preferred candidates to be the party standard-bearers.  In TX, the primary is looking likely to be a two-man race between Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and conservative favorite Ted Cruz.  Cruz, a former Solicitor General, has the backing of the likes of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.  Dewhurst, better known in the state has racked up the endorsements of prominent officials like Governor Rick Perry and many state legislators.  Complicating things for Dewhurst is the fact he needs to win 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off.  Internal polls from the Cruz campaign show him gaining steam while Dewhurst is in the forties, held down by the fact several other candidates are splitting the vote.  If Cruz can get the race to a run-off then anything is possible.

In Wisconsin the GOP primary is between former four term Governor Tommy Thompson and former Congressman Mark Neumann.  Thompson has shown signs of being a weak establishment favorite.  Last week at the state GOP Convention he was eliminated from endorsement contention after just the second round of balloting (with 18%).  Neumann has the backing of the Club for Growth but complicating his efforts to unite the grassroots is state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald’s presence in the race.  Fitzgerald boasts ties to Walker and the grassroots in the state is fully lined up behind the Governor for the recall on June 5th.

Lastly, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has done all the things to avoid what happened to his Senate colleague Bob Bennett in Utah.  Hatch has done a 180 and become much more conservative. He spent millions on getting his delegates to the state convention and very nearly won 60% in the second round of the balloting at the convention.  If he had he could have avoided a primary.  As it is he only came close and must face state Senator Dan Liljenquist in a primary.  Hatch is probably safe because of his move to the right but if the Tea Party Express or Club for Growth get involved in the race it could get interesting.

Some Republicans worry that just like in 2010 these upset candidates could cost the GOP Senate seats in November.  But those worries are largely overstated (except for perhaps WI).  IN, NB, TX, UT are a far cry from the 201o swing states of NV, CO and DE.  This time the GOP will be playing on much friendlier turf in a presidential year when the incumbent is not viewed favorably by voters in the above states.  Then there are the individual candidate attributes to consider.

In Indiana State Treasurer Richard Murdock is not mesmerizing on the stump.  But he has held elected office in 2006 and ran a steady primary campaign against Lugar. In Nebraska Deb Fischer has been reelected easily for her state Senate seat.  According to some GOP analysts she is ironically the most moderate of the three on at the very least social issues.  State Republicans biggest issue with her is she has yet to thoroughly be vetted.  In TX, Ted Cruz is an energizing figure.  He is no Marco Rubio but he offers the GOP a young Hispanic, conservative face in an increasingly Hispanic state.  And in UT the state is so Republican Lilinquist would likely have to drop out to lose if he beat Hatch.

The one wildcard here is WI.  Neumann has held elected office before.  But unlike the other states WI is a swing state and currently highly polarized.  Having Thompson on the ticket might not be a bad idea.  Still, Democrats are set to nominate a highly liberal (and gay) Congresswoman in Tammy Baldwin to be their nominee.  So perhaps Neumann may not look so bad in comparison.

Murdock, Fischer, Cruz and Neumann are not Angle, Buck or O’Donnell.  They have all held elected office.  They have all run excellent campaigns so far and appeal to the grassroots while also maintaining an appeal to independents.  These are not re-runs of failed 2010 Tea Party candidates.

Still, if one takes a look at the scorecard the Tea Party has already done well.  A respected 6 term Senator crushed in Indiana.  A little-known state Senator coming up the middle to win Nebraska.  A former state Solicitor General threatening in TX.  And a former Congressman in WI and state Senator in Utah giving establishment favorites an extreme case of heartburn.  Some could say the Tea Party has already won!