With Bastille Day only a month away, this might be a good time to revisit the prognosis of the pollsters and pundits that November's midterm elections will be dominated by mobs of angry voters storming the Democratic majority in Congress and the Obama administration. So far, the results of the primaries suggest that the pollsters aren't doing too well at long-term or even short-term projections, perhaps because public attitudes are shifting rapidly, or perhaps because the political landscape is more complicated than the inevitably over-simplified questions that pollsters can ask.
Let's begin with last week's cluster of results. The two most heavily financed candidates -- Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California -- won their primaries, but Lt. Governor Bill Halter in Arkansas failed to live up to the expectation of pollsters that he would turn out incumbent Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln. (If Halter had won, the story line would have been that his victory, combined with Joe Sestak's in Pennsylvania, added up a to a Democratic primary rejection of more conservative Democrats. But, as it is, it's a draw.) On a per voter basis, the Arkansas race was actually the most expensive thus far in the nation.
In California the two most heavily financed ballot measures -- the insurance industry's Prop 17 and the PG&E utility monopoly proposal Prop 16 -- both failed, even though neither faced what could be described as a meaningful opposition campaign. In California, Whitman and Fiorina managed to hold off opposition from candidates who claimed to be even more conservative, but in both Nevada (U.S. Senate) and South Carolina (governor), the mainstream Republican Party candidates were swamped by women from the Tea Party, Sharron Angle and Nikki Haley, respectively.
The strongest story line that emerges here is the strength of Tea Party insurgents within the Republican ranks. The failure to renominate Utah's Bob Bennett to the Senate, and the insurgent victories in Kentucky, South Carolina, and now Nevada, leave California as the main exception. But Bennett was knocked off in a convention, not by voters, and in South Carolina and Nevada (as in Whitman's race), three candidates were splitting the vote. Most observers think that this dynamic is going to continue into the fall -- to the detriment of GOP hopes. In Nevada the third candidate in the fall will be a formal "none of the above" line; in the race for the Virginia congressional seat being defended by incumbent Tom Perriello, one of the defeated Republicans will run as an Independent.
So how much does it matter that Karl Rove and his American Crossroads political hit squad are planning to spend $127 million? How badly will Sharron Angle be hurt in Nevada by her enthusiasm for the idea of having the state become the nation's nuclear waste dump? What will California voters make of being asked to vote for an oil industry-funded repeal of the state's climate law with the support of the Republican candidates for governor and senator (but with the opposition of the incumbent Republican governor)? If Florida Governor Charles Crist wins the U.S. Senate race as an independent, which party will he caucus with?
And let's not forget the biggest shoe of all that has yet to drop -- what will be the political impact in November of the catastrophe in the Gulf?
The polls won't be very helpful for quite a while -- because the story for November that will shape voter attitudes on Election Day is still being written.