Huffpost Politics
Jason Linkins Headshot

Last Night's Primary And The State Of Your Political Media Narratives

Posted: Updated:

Another primary night in America has come and gone, yielding up a crop of winners who will press on to November's election and a group of losers who will receive some lovely parting gifts as they return to the sidelines of American politics. As always, it's time to check in on the overarching media narratives that have ruled over the campaign season, to see how they fared in last night's tilts. As it turns out, it's sort of a mixed bag!

Last night's primaries as a measurement of anti-incumbent rage:

All year long, we've heard political touts screeching about how this will be a bad year for incumbents. But this has largely been an all-sizzle-no-steak affair. The two big splashy victims of the Anger and Fury have been Arlen Specter -- a Republican running as a Democrat who was defeated by an actual Democrat -- and Bob Bennett, the Utah Senator that made the terrible mistake of working with Democrat Ron Wyden on a health care plan. Leading up to last night, the media stifled this noise, because they figured Senators John McCain and Lisa Murkowski as sure things that would make this meme look idiotic.

But as it turns out, last night might have been a slightly okay moment to be pimping anti-incumbent Kool-Aid, because as of this moment, with about 98% of precincts reporting, Murkowski looks like she's going down hard to the heretofore unknown Joe Miller. Per Robert Stacy McCain, Murkowski is "refus[ing] to concede." But Miller's up by a sizable margin, which means we're likely looking at another fallen incumbent. We'll have more on Murkowski in a moment.

Of course, in Arizona, John McCain (as well as incumbent Governor Jan Brewer) were big winners last night. In retrospect, it seems absolutely insane to have imagined any other outcome, but when it comes to the anti-incumbent meme, John McCain had a personal political calculus that made using him as a barometer for voter fury so seductive that some pundits still seemed somewhat flabbergasted by McCain's success last night.

It goes like this: conservatives hate McCain because he is insufficiently conservative, while liberals hate John McCain because he's one of the most insincere personages in American politics. But last night, it wasn't liberals and conservatives who were casting their vote for McCain, it was Arizonans. And Arizonans, as it happens, are pretty happy with John McCain. Maybe they value his experience, maybe they just like him personally, maybe Arizonans have been told that if John McCain turns ninety while serving as Senator, it will fulfill an ancient prophecy that will reward residents of the State with a huge bounty of Mohave Indian gold, who knows? The salient point is that Arizona voters delivered up a blowout victory for the two-time presidential hopeful.

Of course, it helped immensely that McCain was running against J.D. Hayworth, a man who is -- as McCain was happy to point out again and again and again -- one of the most remarkably stupid men currently stumbling around in America. McCain relished going up against Hayworth. In fact, if there's any reason for McCain to be disappointed today, it's that he was only able to defeat Hayworth in an election, and that he wasn't allowed to literally choke out Hayworth during the seventh-inning stretch at a Diamondbacks game. Because he wasn't able to inflict actual bodily harm on Hayworth, McCain might be feeling empty inside. (Also contributing to the emptiness: McCain's decision to retreat from all of his political principles!)

Last night's election as a test of self-funder candidates:

The line on wealthy, self-funding candidates is that they tend to fare very poorly in elections -- unless they don't! And last night proved this to be wrong/right in the state of Florida, where two impossibly wealthy candidates, Jeff Greene and Rick Scott vied for the Florida Senate and statehouse, respectively. Florida was also supposed to be a test of other things, like: "Will the races prove the validity of Mason Dixon's polling?" and, per Jonathan Martin of Politico, "Will the races prove that dominating the airwaves will yield electoral success?" And now, we know even less about these topics than we did last week, so hooray!

As for the self-funding matter, perhaps Chris Lehmann (pre-order his new book, Rich People Things, today!) summed it up best when he tweeted: "So lesson from Fla. appears to be that $26 million isn't enough to buy an election--it takes at least $50 million." In this case, it was housing-short superstar Greene with the $26 million, and massive Medicare fraudster scumtwig Rick Scott with the $50 million.

The Democratic nominee, Kendrick Meek, may have spent most of the primary season running a campaign that lived up to his last name, but if he fell short in the message department, he at least took advantage of the fact that Greene's campaign message was often things like, "Funny story, actually, about how my yacht crashed into a coral reef," or "Funny story, actually, about how my yacht came to be docked in Cuba," or "Funny story, actually, about how Mike Tyson was actually drugging up adjacent to my yacht, but not on my yacht." The good news, of course, is that Greene can return to his yacht and his wealth and his life of holding much better parties than you and I will ever attend.

The same Mason-Dixon polls that gaudily predicted a Meek win also spurred hope for the campaign of state attorney general and former Representative Bill McCollum, but in the end, the crushing blow that Rick Scott spent $50 large to deliver landed. He'll go up against Democratic nominee Alex Sink. I'm not sure what Sink will do in terms of strategy to avoid McCollum's fate. Perhaps the best thing she can do is steadfastly remind voters that Scott's Hospital Corporation of America bilked the bejeezus out of Medicare recipients, earning it a record-setting $1.7 billion penalty for fraud. On the other hand, maybe Alex Sink should figure out a way to become staggeringly wealthy in the next week or so?

A final note on Florida. The media has spent the past few weeks talking up Greene and Scott as "outsider" candidates. True enough, the two men had never run for public office until this year, but it seems to me to be inordinately asinine to refer to two guys who have enriched themselves by taking advantage of avenues to wealth that are only open to a handful of Americans as "outsiders." These guys didn't walk out of a cornfield with authentic American dust on their boots, bearing the calluses of hard work on their hands. So let's stop that, okay?

Sarah Palin As Political Endorser:

I tend to think of sometime-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's career as an endorser of Republican candidates to be a little Comme Ci, Comme Ça, but last night was undeniably a big night for Palin. And the best thing for Palin is that none of her personal emotional baggage impeded her success. In Arizona, she has fulfilled her professional obligation to pretend to like John McCain, and can bask in his victory. In her home state of Alaska, however, she shucked off reports of her declining popularity and got to watch her Senate pick, pre-op Mama Grizzly Joe Miller, stake a firm claim over Lisa Murkowski, who Palin really, really, really, really hates like grim death.

And, as Dave Weigel points out, in Florida, Palin can also take some measure of credit for taking a candidate from the depths of obscurity to an unexpected primary win: Pam Bondi, who will run as the GOP contender for the state's attorney general's office. Also, incumbent Alaska Governor Sean Parnell won his nomination battle, but I'm not sure if I should call Parnell a "Palin-endorsed" candidate or just a guy that Palin left in the lurch when she quit her job.

Anyway, that's the story of last night's media narratives. Next up is the big Louisiana Senate showdown on Saturday between last-minute GOP insurgent Chet Traylor and incumbent prostitute enthusiast/criminal harborer David Vitter. I'd wager that it's going to be another bad day for "anti-incumbent rage!"

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

Register To Vote