A lot of us have been speculating for months now about the power of the tea party, the anger of the hard-left toward more moderate Democrats, and which way independents will swing after a year of ObamaCare, growing deficits and persistent unemployment. In the primaries and special elections to date, the results have been mixed: A Republican took advantage of a Democratic feud in a special congressional election in Hawaii; a Democrat won pretty convincingly in a Pennsylvania special congressional election which some pundits called an opportunity for a GOP gain; tea party favorite Rand Paul won his Kentucky GOP Senate primary but other candidates with support from the movement have fizzled.
After today’s primaries, we’ll have a better idea of where things really stand.
California, Nevada and South Carolina have GOP primaries for the Senate, House and governor’s mansion that will help to show the tea partiers’ mettle. So will the north Georgia congressional runoff between Republicans Tom Graves and Lee Hawkins, although that race to serve out the rest of Nathan Deal’s term in the House is something of a prelude to next month’s primary to hold the seat in 2011-12.
In Arkansas, where Democrat Blanche Lincoln is in a runoff trying to avoid being the third incumbent senator to lose in a primary this year, and in California, where Rep. Jane Harman faces a challenge from the left, we’ll see whether blue dogs are truly appreciated by Democratic voters.
The independent question will be a bit trickier, because not all of these states have totally open primaries. Independents can vote in California’s Democratic primary but not the GOP contest, for instance. So, it’ll be tough to gauge independent interest, although we may get a feel for voter enthusiasm for R’s and D’s.
I’ll be keeping a particular eye on the South Carolina races, the Nevada Senate primary and the Graves v. Hawkins runoff. If the tea party is going to make an impact today, I think it’ll be in those contests.