Tonight's Primaries

Tonight’s primaries have made for some strange “branding.” In the Kentucky GOP primary, the insurgent, outsider is Rand Paul, although it is difficult to see how the son of a congressman can really be considered an outsider. In Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter, who has spent his career defeating Democrats, now asks the Democratic primary electorate to make him their standard bearer in November.

Much has been made of how the different contests reflect the value of endorsements. President Barack Obama and Pennsylvania’s Governor Ed Rendell are backing Specter, the price of his conversion to the Democratic Party last year. In Kentucky, Paul is facing the “establishment” candidate, that is, the candidate preferred by Sen. Mitch McConnell. The dirty secret is that endorsements have almost no value and the election results will in no way be a reflection on voter sentiment towards the endorsers. The Rendell endorsement, to the extent it brings with it the Philly political machine, armed with “walking around” money to get people to the polls, may make a difference, but I doubt it. In both races, Paul and Congressman Joe Sestak have successfully portrayed themselves as the anti-incumbent, and that will be decisive.

The most interesting race will be to see who succeeds Rep. John Murtha. In the special election in the commonwealth’s 12th District, we really will see a referendum on the direction of the country. This is not an intra-party primary, but a fight between a Republican and a Democrat. Obama polled poorly in the southwestern Pennsylvania district, where they did not take kindly to his remarks about people clinging to their guns and their God in the face of economic difficulties. Murtha was the kind of gruff, old-style, New Deal Democrat who could win the seat year-in and year-out. The fact that it is close shows that next November might not be the GOP windfall some are expecting. If the Democrats maintain the seat, it will be a huge win.

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