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Primary Recap: A Look at the Winners and Losers

Anytime voters in nine states vote on a single day, there are any number of winners and losers to choose from.

The biggest winner of the Sept. 12 primaries was Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who defeated Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey in a tightly contested Republican primary. While Chafee's win was somewhat surprising, most of the other high-profile race played out to form. Rep. Ben Cardin's financial advantage led him to a victory over former Rep. Kweisi Mfume in Maryland's Democratic Senate primary, while former state Rep. Randy Graf came out on top in the Republican primary in Arizona's open 8th congressional district -- virtually ensuring that Democrats will pick up that seat in November.

As always, The Fix seeks to provide its readers with more than just the election results. What follows is a look at some less obvious winners and losers from yesterday's primaries. Have suggestions for winners and losers of your own? Post in the comments section.


Republican Turnout Operation: Say what you will about President Bush's dismal approval ratings and the toxic national political environment for his party. But once again, Republicans showed they know how to turn out the voters they need to win elections. They made nearly 200,000 voter contacts in the final 11 days of the Rhode Island Senate campaign and the state was flooded with staff from around the country. For all the criticism -- much of it spot-on -- that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has received this cycle, the organization deserve major kudos for its work here. In addition to the ground game, the NRSC spent heavily on an ad campaign to bolster Chafee and weaken Laffey. It worked. Chafee's victory over the more conservative Laffey puts Republicans a much better position to hold this seat in November.

Al Gore/Barack Obama/Russ Feingold: The win by Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire's 1st District Democratic primary bodes well for the three potential presidential candidates, each of whom has opposed the war in Iraq from the start. Shea-Porter called for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, while her main opponent -- state Rep. Jim Craig -- had been less willing to take such a strong position. Craig also had far more money and the backing of the Democratic establishment in Washington. Given New Hampshire's primacy in the presidential nomination process, you can be sure every Democrat thinking about a run in 2008 was watching this race closely and now knows that support for the war has become increasingly politically perilous.

Famous Last Names: Last night's results in Rhode Island proved that the Chafee name is still a powerful brand in the state's politics. But Lincoln Chafee wasn't the only candidate who benefitted from his last name last night. Attorney John Sarbanes (D), the son of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), won the primary in the open 3rd District House seat in Maryland. The seat, which is being vacated by Senate nominee Ben Cardin, has a strong Democratic lean and Sarbanes should have little trouble winning it this November when a number of other political legacies are on the line. There are plenty of other famous last names on the ballot this fall. In Delaware, Beau Biden (D) -- son of Sen. Joe Biden (D) -- is seeking the state Attorney General's office. State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., son of the former governor, officially claimed the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in November. Across the Hudson in New York, another Cuomo looks likely to hold a statewide office (see below).

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: The victory by former state Rep. Randy Graf (R) in Arizona's 8th District makes this seat perhaps the most likely in the country to switch parties. Graf, a conservative who highlighted his opposition to illegal immigration during the primary, is widely seen as too divisive to win a general election in this southern Arizona seat. Not to mention the fact that popular Rep. Jim Kolbe (R), whose retirement set off the race, has said publicly that Graf cannot win in the fall. (Kolbe is likely still unhappy about Graf's primary challenge to him in 2004.) The DCCC got their preferred candidate in ex-state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords. Elsewhere, the victory by wealthy allergist Steve Kagen (D) in the open 8th District seat in Wisconsin will likely save the DCCC from spending heavily from its own coffers to win the race. (Yes, we know, that Craig lost in New Hampshire, but that seat was never a top Democratic pick-up chance.)


Positive Ads: Laffey's refusal to attack Chafee on television in the Rhode Island primary race played a major role in his loss. While Chafee's campaign bashed the Cranston Mayor on television, Laffey ran NOT ONE negative (or comparative) ad against the incumbent in the final two months of the campaign. Yes, we know that polling shows people don't like negative campaign commercials and that it breeds cynicism in the political process. It also happens to work. By not answering Chafee's hits with some of his own, Laffey left the impression in the minds of some voters that the allegations were true. It's Campaign 101; some things in politics just don't change.

Club For Growth: The Club made no secret that defeating Chafee was its No. 1 priority this cycle. And despite funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Laffey's campaign and spending similar amounts on advertising to knock off the incumbent, its efforts came up short. Laffey's defeat keeps the Club from claiming the prize it wants most -- defeating a sitting senator who fails to hew to its free-market agenda. That said, the Club has had an extremely successful run so far this cycle -- playing a major role in the loss of moderate Rep. Joe Schwarz (R) in Michigan and winning a number of contested Republican primaries in other states. Still, the group's inability to beat Chafee takes some of the shine off '06 cycle for the Club.

Mark Green: Green lost his bid for New York Attorney General last night to Andrew Cuomo. That defeat means an end to the longtime liberal advocate's political career, which has included two losses for Senate nominations, as well as failed runs for the U.S. House and New York City Mayor. How does that phrase go? Five strikes and you're out?

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 13, 2006; 10:24 AM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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