Primaries in three states tonight, with both the important headlines coming out of Alabama: Repub Parker Griffith is the latest House incumbent to lose a primary, and Rep. Artur Davis lost a gubernatorial campaign by over 30 points that he was expected to win. If these results show us anything, it's what we already know: Americans are sick of Washington politics, Democrats are sick of Republican-lite candidates running in their primaries, and voters can sense naked political opportunism when they see it.
The biggest news of the night is Congressman Parker Griffith of Alabama, a Democrat turned Republican, lost his AL-05 primary to Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks, 51-23. Griffith’s loss isn’t a big surprise – the Madison County Republican Party endorsed BOTH of Parker’s opponents – but it will play into the national anti-incumbent meme. This is an anti-incumbent year, yes, but as with PA-SEN the real thing to take away from this race is that you can’t ask the base that once vilified you to suddenly embrace you. If voters can sense only one thing, it’s authenticity, and Parker Griffith was anything but genuine.
Regarding the general, according to AL.gov, “The 5th Congressional District has not elected a Republican representative in more than a century, and Brooks will now face Democratic nominee Steve Raby in November.” Raby is a former US Senate staffer running in an anti-Washington year, and half century or not McCain and Bush did each win 60% of the vote here, so it’ll be a tough one to hold.
Also notable is Rep. Artur Davis’ stunning lost to Ag Commission Ron Sparks in the Democratic primary for Alabama Governor. I call it stunning because Davis led Sparks 41-33 just two weeks ago, yet is down 62-38 with 96% of precincts reporting. Another surprise here is that the white Sparks pulled a full 40% of the African American vote. Says Ed Kilgore at FiveThirtyEight, “The CW tomorrow will probably be that Davis thought far too much about positioning himself for the general election before concentrating on the primary, and that Sparks' uncontested claim on endorsements by African-American political groups was a big deal after all.”
Davis did sort of approach the primary with an air of entitlement, having planned to run in this race for years. I used to be a big fan of his, but I can’t say I’m too disappointed by this loss. The closer Davis got to running state-wide, the more conservative he became. I interviewed him for the Dartmouth Free Press in 2006 and wrote a flattering profile, as did the New York Times Magazine in 2008, which at the time he probably deserved. But as Howie Klein observed last October,
His lifetime ProgressivePunch score is 71.09, making him the 165th most progressive member of the House, not close to being a progressive, but not close to being a conservative either. Like I said, he's a moderate-- or at least he was until he decided to run for governor. This year, his score dropped into Republican territory and suddenly he's voting more frequently with the GOP than with the Democrats on crucial issues. His Progressive Punch score plummeted from 71.09 to 28.06!
Davis ran to the right in a Democratic primary, fearing a conservative general electorate. Voters said thanks, but no thanks. Griffith abandoned the Democratic primary altogether, fearing that same electorate. A different set of voters again said no thanks. Voters aren’t stupid – whether they know the facts or not, they can sense authenticity. That’s an important takeaway for candidates in any race: be genuine. Be yourself.
But of course, it’s not the only takeaway. As the media will point out, Davis was the Washington candidate; Sparks was more local. Griffith is another incumbent Congressman to lose his seat in a primary. Tonight will be spun as, and to some extent is, part of the anti-incumbent trend.
AL.com has more Alabama primary results. Mississippi and New Mexico also had primaries, but no House incumbents lost because no incumbents were primaried, so the light turnout is no surprise. New Mexico Repubs did select Susana Martinez to face off against Democrat Diane Denish in the gubernatorial race to replace Bill Richardson; Lt. Gov Denish is likely the favorite.