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How to lose by winning

I'm not terribly interested in the outcomes of today's elections. I imagine McConnell will beat Deeds. Corzine might edge out Christie. But the story of a disliked governor who managed to hold onto his seat by mocking his opponent's waistline isn't exactly a feel-good. And NY-23 isn't really a race: A Democrat hasn't won the district since the 1800s, and the attention is entirely based on the crack-up in the Republican Party.

But I am interested in the aftermath. Politico reports that "conservative activists are gearing up to challenge leading GOP candidates in more than a dozen key House and Senate races in 2010." This seems like a bit of a disaster for the Republicans. Look at the Senate right now: If Democrats have 60 votes, it's because conservative activists kept running primary challengers against Arlen Specter. If they fall short, it's likely to be because liberal activists ran a primary challenge against Joe Lieberman. If tomorrow's election makes the Republican Party way more primary-happy than it already is, it's probably going to end up costing them a lot more seats than they're about to gain.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 3, 2009; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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The primary challenges shaping up within the GOP are proof to me that the system is very efficient at bringing things back to center.

Barring the possibility that the fringy elements of the GOP succeed at fooling most of the people most of the time, voters will seek out whoever is reasonable.

A national party can only go so extreme before cleaving itself down the middle, thus destroying the political chances of a takeover by extremists.

The worst thing that could happen to the Democrats would be a cadre of reasonable, diplomatic, and emotionally balanced Republicans running for office in '10 and '12. A real alternative could be very attractive to centrists. But there are no signs of that happening any time soon.

So far, either the GOP hasn't been burned enough at the polls to get the memo, or they've really lost control of their message to the movement.

Either way, they lose, just like McGovern and Goldwater.

Posted by: itstrue | November 3, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Not "terribly interested"? If the GOP beats expectations tonight -- a sweep in NJ, VA, NY-23, the overturning of gay equality in Maine -- we're all going to feel pretty crappy tomorrow. Plus, it will have an immediate impact on the healthcare debate as the push to reform rounds the final turn, scaring the bejesus out of the squishy moderates. Surely you can see this.

If Corzine survives and Question 1 is voted down, then our team will have reason to celebrate.

Posted by: scarlota | November 3, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Where the hell did this meme take root that Jon Corzine stayed competitive in the NJ Governor's race by saying "fatty boomblatty" over and over? Corzine focused almost entirely on Christie's corruption scandals, using the US Attorneys office to partisan ends, using his position in power to get out of parking tickets and hitting pedestrians, and more than anything, Christie's ACTUAL POLITICAL STANDS, like taking mammograms off of mandatory state insurance coverage and calling universal pre-K "babysitting". The weight thing was one word in one ad that the New York Times spun into a story and that conservatives hyped to fool people into thinking that this was Corzine's only argument. It's disappointing to see you fall for it.

Posted by: dday212 | November 3, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Joe Lieberman isn't up for relection until 2012. It's Dodd running in 2010. Would like to see both of them go.
A CT Dem

Posted by: scs0scs0 | November 3, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

"it will have an immediate impact on the healthcare debate"

I dunno. I kinda think if August didn't peel enough moderates off, a couple elections on the East Coast aren't gonna do it. I mean, only one of these elections (VA) can at all be considered typical, and even that had a uniquely bad Dem candidate...

Posted by: colby1983 | November 3, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

"But the story of a disliked governor who managed to hold onto his seat by mocking his opponent's waistline isn't exactly a feel-good."

Not only that, but Corzine is a Billionaire. He outspent his opponent three to one, most of the 30+ million came out of his own pocket.

I wish I could buy a governorship.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | November 3, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Not sure that Ezra is right. Mr. Obama has panicked a lot of Americans with Stimulus + Health Care Reform + Cap & Trade. There's a very specific strain of conservative showing up now, the Mad as Hell About Fiscal Policy group. Think tea-parties. They opposed both Stimulus bills, opposed the bailouts, and strongly oppose any policy that will increase the deficit. They may not have thought too much about it during George W. Bush's spendthrift years, but they're getting real concerned now. Somewhere a line was crossed, and that credit card debt just got too scary big.

And they seem to include a lot of people who used to be Independents and maybe even voted for Obama. I don't think they, as a group, have a particular take on foreign policy or social issues, though of course each one has his own opinion. Their main focus is on one issue.

That's an important change. A lot of Americans are conservatives, but traditionally fall into different groups (foreign policy, social conservative, small-government conservative). Since they disagreed on what is most important, they often got in each other's way. Which is how John McCain got nominated. But that may be changing now.

If there is something like a plurality of Americans who now feel that Not Spending Money We Don't Have is _the_ main single issue, the Tea Parties could lead to a very powerful and unified conservative movement. The other issues would get settled in the primary, but every candidate would have to accept Fight the Deficit to be considered.

Posted by: MikeR4 | November 3, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

You're going to have to show your work if you think the reason Lieberman behaves like an apostate is because Ned Lamont ran against and beat him in a primary -- Lamont ran because Lieberman was already behaving like an apostate and, indeed, wasn't "with us on everything but the war." It's not for nothing that poll after poll shows CT has buyer's remorse on the '06 election.

Posted by: AaronSVeenstra | November 3, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Where did you hear that a Democrat hadn't won NY-23 since the 1800s? Try 1990:'s_23rd_congressional_district

Posted by: DreadGazebo | November 3, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Excellent spin Ezra. Sounds like a true Democratic party hack. You should find a career in spin-meistery. Your budget analysis isn't that good.

Posted by: lancediverson | November 3, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

What AaronSVeenstra said. Plus you've got to keep in mind that the Democratic caucus went well out of their way--and indeed, well out of the way of what strategic prudence would dictate--to make sure Lieberman kept his seniority and plum chairmanship.

Posted by: NedResnikoff | November 3, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

@DreadGazebo: Wrong. NY-23 covered a totally different part of the state in 1990.

Posted by: Oranger | November 3, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Look at the Senate right now: If Democrats have 60 votes, it's because conservative activists kept running primary challengers against Arlen Specter. If they fall short, it's likely to be because liberal activists ran a primary challenge against Joe Lieberman.

This is a joke, right? Lieberman's track record on healthcare has been horrendous. His reasons for it have nothing to do with what his voters want, but instead what is in the best interest of his high ticket contributors (Big Health) and family (Mrs. Lieberman).

If Lamont had not challenge Joe, he would be voting the same way.


Posted by: toshiaki | November 3, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Shorter Ezra: You crazy liberals! You ran against Joe and hurt his feelings, so it's all your fault! Sob!

What hackery. I hope the Village Kool-Aid tastes good, dude!

Posted by: redscott | November 3, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Going after centrist Republicans in the Primaries to keep them cowed has been a standard practice of the far right since the seventies. Backing an outsider against the party nominee is something particularly new. Will the Palin wing of the party start running conservative party candidates against moderates who win party primaries next year, (remember, there was no primary this time)?

Ross Perot where are we now that the center needs you?

Posted by: ceflynline | November 3, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

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