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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.

By The Fix  |  July 27, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Governors , House , Senate  
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McCain can use his wife's beer money.

what is going on with the comments sections of headline stories. We are in constant LOADING.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | July 28, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse


Is Jesse Ventura running this year? And has already won?

Or maybe you missed the opening sentence of Chris' piece:
"Has the anti-establishment movement of 2010 already gone bust?"

Please note: The piece is about the political climate THIS year, not 1999.

Posted by: critter69 | July 28, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Uh, Dead_and_Barryd, you're not dense enough to think that it was Obama and the Dems who are responsible for the housing meltdown, are you? 'Cause that would take stupidity to an almost unbelievable level. Were you born last year? Are you one year old? Look, if you can't post anything other than nonsense, please, refrain from posting.

Posted by: chert | July 28, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Just two words:

Jesse Ventura.

Regardless of whether one thinks he proved to be a good governor or not, he DID win the election.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | July 28, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

PaulRevere regurgitates that golden oldie conspiracy fav concerning a global conspiracy by the Bilderbergs, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Tri-Lateral Commission to impose a one world government on us.

Look. I have been hearing this claptrap for over half a century. Don't you think that if there were anything to this, it would have all come together by now? It is all rather like those croaky zealots who predict the return of HE WHO SHOULD BE COMING ALONG ANYTIME NOW to solve all of our problems.

None of this conspiracy stuff or Revelations based hoodwinkery ever comes to pass. A decade or so ago, conspiracy buffs were all quaking about Y2K. Yet another breathless prediction that failed to materialize.

Posted by: jaxas70 | July 28, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

One has to wonder why all the hullabaloo about the "Tea Party" which is in fact not a real party, but rather, just a fringe, far-right element of the Republican party. It is actually kinda fun sitting here watching the two elements of the party duking it out, causing more havoc in their own party than they are with the Dems. Florida, Nevada, and Kentucky come immediately to mind, and of course, we now need to add in New Hampshire where Sarah Palin's recent endorsement has torpedoed the Republican candidate's popularity with the mainstream independents and conservadems.

The fact that people still blame Bush for the state of the country's economy and still think Obama's programs will better serve the nation than the Republicans is not all that hard to understand. Anyone who lived through the eight years of Bushonomics and saw how the Republicans ran up the debt can understand why people feel the way they do. It also explains why recent polling show that most people would like to get rid of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy -- especially when they realize that leaving them in place will increase that deficit by another --ANOTHER -- $14 BILLION!! The crocodile tears of the Republicans about their concern for the deficit fall on deaf ears when they also say it is ok to keep piling up debt just to keep from letting taxes for 1% of the country from going up a mere 4% after January 1st. Hard to justify opposing increasing the deficit while arguing for adding another $14 Billion just to keep taxes minimally lower for the wealthiest 1% of the country. Taxes for the rest of us will not go up, will not change, and no amount of lies and propaganda will make that any different. Somehow I think Glen Beck will be able to afford another 4% of his $32 million salary just so the rest of us can finally get a break.

People still remember the Bush years because we are still suffering from them and will be for some time to come. Obama is getting us out of this mess, but what Bush and the Republicans did to us is o foul, so huge, it will take years to get us back to square one.

Posted by: marvcarnes | July 28, 2010 12:27 AM | Report abuse

The reasons why we must vote out, Establishment Government Representatives, whether they are Left or Right - Incumbent or Candidate!

Make sure they do not belong to any of the Global Elitist Organizations: Bilderberg Group, Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, Club of Rome, Skull and Bones, Canadian Council of Chief Executives,
Harvard Elite Players, Goldman Sachs, International Monetary Fund, The United Nations, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization.

The reason we must vote out Establishment Government Representatives whether they are Left or Right, Incumbent or Candidate is explained on this 2 minute News Clip:

TWO Party Paradyne System News clip:

Posted by: PaulRevere4 | July 27, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

This isn't just about anti-establishment candidates, it's about issues these candidates support and opposse. The liberal agenda of high spending and running up deficiets aren't popular. A hope to restore financial sanity and review balancing a budget are popular issues right now because people are afraid for this nation.

Posted by: reason5 | July 27, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

"As congressional Republicans double down on President Bush’s failed economic policies, a new National Journal/Pew Research poll finds that Americans believe President Obama’s “policies offer a better chance at improving the economy over the policies of his predecessor.”

Interestingly, more Democrats favor Obama’s policies than Republicans favor Bush’s, while independents overwhelming side with Obama. Overall, despite continued tough economic times, 46 percent of Americans say Obama’s policies will do more to improve the economy, compared to just 29 percent who say the same of Bush’s"

americans, fortunately are not as stupid as republicans think they are.

Posted by: drindl | July 27, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

"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"

CC -- I told you all along this was just Beltway conventional wisdom nonsense.

The tea party will be dead before the end of the year.

Oh between, you forgot to mention the bad blood between Tancredo and Dick Wadhams..

"However, Tancredo is running into some heavy opposition from his own right-wing base. Today, leaders of 21 state Tea Party groups sent an open letter to Tancredo, accusing him of “betraying” them and asking him to reconsider. The groups quoted Tancredo, who once said that “leaving the [Republican] party is not the answer.” Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party Dick Wadhams took on a harsher tone in what was described as an “all-out-brawl” with Tancredo that took place on Peter Boyles’ KHOW radio station this morning:

WADHAMS: What’s your agenda? What are you going to talk about? Impeach Obama and bomb mecca? [...]

TANCREDO: All of a sudden you’re opposed to my attacks on Obama? [...] What does that have to do with my race?

WADHAMS: You’re talking about it as a candidate for governor!

Posted by: drindl | July 27, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Tom Emmer, he skated to victory for the GOP endorsement past Mart Seifert, the more establishment candidate in the race. Because they were going for an open seat it doesn't fit into the anti-incumbency meme, but Emmer absolutely rode the TEA party lunacy into the nomination. Over the coming months we're going to see more buyer's remorse from MN GOP leaders.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 27, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse


Obama has a meeting with Republicans - and afterwards ATTACKS THEM as not being bipartisan.

Is this a joke? Obama went around the country for years, telling the country he could do the heavy-lifting required to bring both sides together -


How sick is that ?

Is Obama going for Guiness Book of World Records on Broken campaign promises ???


Really - Obama is TRASHING every voter who gave him their vote.

No self-control, no self-restraint - an absolutely PATHETIC display of disrespect to the nation.

Obama is a complete joke.


Posted by: YouCanPostThis | July 27, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

"no independent or third-party candidate is putting together the kind of campaign required to be a serious candidate in any top statewide race."

Tom Horner, former republican & running for governor of MN as the IP endorsed candidate, has collected $190K in contributions. Not a lot, certainly, but then GOP candidate Tom Emmer has only raised $800K. Emmer's campaign isn't firing on all cylinders yet; it's unclear whether he'll be able to get his act together and run a decent campaign. If Emmer keeps up his current rate of gaffes, I could see disenchanted moderate republicans voting for Horner rather than holding their nose for Emmer. Not enough for Horner to win, but at this point the DFLer has to be viewed as the frontrunner -whomever wins in two weeks.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 27, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry. The maverick Feingold and McCain will fix everything.

Posted by: leapin | July 27, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The MONEY controls politics.

When did you figure this out ?

The day is light because of the SUN.

Leaves are GREEN

Water is wet

The summer is WARM

The winter is COLD

Money controls POLITICS

Anything else we have to go over?


Posted by: YouCanPostThis | July 27, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

"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."

i am shocked, shocked i tell you

Posted by: shrink2 | July 27, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Obungler recovery update:

About 18.9 million homes in the U.S. stood empty during the second quarter as surging foreclosures helped push ownership to the lowest level in a decade. The number of vacant properties, including foreclosures, residences for sale and vacation homes, rose from 18.6 million in the year-earlier quarter, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a report today. The ownership rate, meaning households that own their own residence, was 66.9 percent, the lowest since 1999.

Posted by: Dead_and_Barryd | July 27, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

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