Establishment wins as primary and third-party challenges fizzle
By Aaron Blake
Has the anti-establishment movement of 2010 already gone bust?
Despite the voters' utter distaste for parties and the political establishment, there have been only a handful of serious primary challenges to sitting Members of Congress and even fewer viable third-party candidates have emerged in the run-up to the fall election.
The reason? Money.
If money is the leading indicator (and, sorry, it probably is) of viability, few incumbents have anything to be concerned about the rest of the primary season, and even fewer candidates should worry about a third-party candidate ruining their victory party.
Take Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Dan Boren who is being challenged from his ideological left by state Sen. Jim Wilson today. As of July 7, Boren had $1.4 million in the bank while Wilson had just $18,000 (and that's with rounding up!)
Of the four incumbent members of Congress to lose in primaries so far this year, their challengers all had one thing in common: lots and lots of cash.
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) had $5 million -- most of which he raised while running for re-election to the House -- for his upset of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and challengers to Reps. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.), Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) and Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) all put together at least $300,000 before their primaries -- and more than a half million dollars in the latter two cases.
Those four results, along with Sen. Bob Bennett's (R-Utah) loss at the state GOP convention, have had analysts pointing to an anti-establishment movement that could endanger any number of House incumbents and open the door to a third-party renaissance.
Problem is, it hasn't happened. In the 25 states yet to hold primaries,
not one fewer than five major House primary challengers have even $100,000 in the bank. And in the Senate, primary challengers to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are all facing steep financial disadvantages. All trail in the polls, have spent less than one-fourth the amount the incumbents have, and have a lot less cash for the stretch run.
The situation is even worse for third-party candidates. Third-party Tea Party candidates have been hyped for their potential to steal votes from Republicans in several top House races. (Fix favorite Stu Rothenberg has a good rundown of these races.)
But such challenges to Reps. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), Glenn Nye (D-Va.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) and in the open seat in Florida's 12th district have almost no money behind them.
Candidates in those races have either filed reports showing barely any money raised or have not filed at all because they didn't meet the $5,000 threshold.
In total, not one third-party candidate in any competitive House race reported even $12,000 in the bank at the end of June.
Of course, the situation in statewide races is a little different. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's (I) Senate campaign is in a very strong cash position but much of that money was raised before he switched parties in April.
And, in Rhode Island, former GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee's independent gubernatorial campaign is raising decent money although he still lags far behind Democrat Frank Caprio in cash.
It's important to note here, also, that whatever Crist and Chafee can accomplish from here on-out, a lot of it would never have happened if they didn't hold statewide office as Republicans in recent years.
Something similar could be said for the well-funded gubernatorial campaign of Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill, who until last year was a Democrat. Even Maine independent governor candidate Eliot Cutler, who is expected to self-fund his way to relevance in that race, is a longtime Democrat has worked as an adviser to big-name party figures including former President Jimmy Carter and former Sen. Ed Muskie (D-Maine).
And then there's the addition Monday of former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) into the Colorado governor's race as the American Constitution Party candidate. Tancredo is running, for all intents and purposes, as a GOP candidate, hoping Republican votes shift to him amidst former Rep. Scott McInnis's (R-Colo.) plagiarism problems.
Beyond those five, no independent or third-party candidate is putting together the kind of campaign required to be a serious candidate in any top statewide race. Even as voters are looking for another option in many races, the financial constraints of running for office remain too tall for candidates without some party background or support.
Incumbents will never rest easy when faced with such an environment. And candidates like Reps. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) and Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) -- who each face a state senator who has raised a little under $200,000 -- may and should be legitimately scared.
But unless other primary and third-party candidates can raise significantly more money -- and quickly -- the anti-establishment movement of 2010 could well end with a whisper rather than a bang.
July 27, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
Categories: Governors , House , Senate
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