Mixed News in Tuesday’s Results

by Stuart Rothenberg August 25, 2010 · 3:46 PM EDT

Tuesday’s results were an uncomfortable reminder to strategists in both parties that this is a strange election cycle. While the surprises were on the Republican side, they confirm a level of dissatisfaction, at least on the political right, with politics as usual and established politicians.

Certainly many current and former officeholders won nomination, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL), Rep. Allen Boyd (D-FL), former state Sen. Dan Webster (R-FL 8) and state Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL 24).

But Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) is relegated to hoping that absentee ballots yet to be counted somehow give her a win, former state Sen. Jonathan Paton (AZ 8) was upset by a conservative insurgent in the GOP primary and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is licking his wounds after yet another electoral defeat, this time for the GOP nominee for governor.

And in Arizona’s 3rd C.D., three former state legislators and a sitting mayor were defeated by Ben Quayle, a 33 year old lawyer and businessman whose only claim to fame seem to be his last name and an attention getting by running a TV commercial calling Barack Obama “the worst President in history” and saying that “Somebody has to go to Washington and knock the hell out of the place.”

In Florida, businessman Rick Scott will have to spend some time wooing backers of McCollum (and certainly McCollum himself), after a nasty primary. Luckily for him, Florida leans Republican even in a neutral year, this midterm cycle strongly favors Republicans and Democrat Alex Sink isn’t an ideal candidate.

Democratic attacks on Scott surely will echo McCollum’s attack in the primary, and Scott is certain to use the same kind of “time for a change” and “don’t trust the politicians’ rhetoric against Sink that he did in his primary.

The Democratic Governors Association quickly pointed to a pre-primary (August 21-22) PPP poll showing Sink ahead of Scott by seven points, a meaningless survey for anyone who really wants to know what will happen in the fall.

PPP, a Democratic firm, found Sink had stronger support among Democrats than Scott did among Republicans. Wow, there’s a shocker. Scott just spent the last few months in a toe-to-toe fight for the nomination against his party’s political establishment, while Sink coasted to the nomination without anyone laying a glove on her. No wonder Scott’s negatives are high and Sink’s favorable-to-unfavorable numbers are better than Scott’s. You’d expect that after one party had a nasty primary and the other didn’t.

But all of that is likely to change after a few weeks, or at least before the end of October. Given the state’s bent and the candidates’ qualities and initial positioning, the Florida gubernatorial general election contest starts as a toss-up.

In Florida’s Senate race, Democrat Kendrick Meek’s team has already sent out a campaign memo arguing that Meek has momentum, Gov. Charlie Crist (R), running as an Independent, cannot win, and ultimately voters face a Rubio-Meek choice.

Meeks’s solid primary win over Jeff Greene notwithstanding, Meek’s case seems incredibly weak. Rubio drew more votes than were cast for all candidates in the Democratic primary, and the Democratic congressman is so widely dismissed as a serious contender for November that the day after the primary his campaign felt it necessary to make a case that he isn’t irrelevant.

Meek’s primary win, does, as many have already pointed out, create a problem for national Democratic strategists. Do they invest in a ridiculously long-shot candidacy because Meek won the primary and is the party’s lone credible African American Senate hopeful, thereby diverting their resources from better opportunities?

However they answer that question, Meek’s primary win certainly improves Rubio’s prospects.

In Alaska, Republican Joe Miller looks to have ridden an anti-Washington, anti-establishment mood in one of the quirkier political states of the union. If Democrats had known Murkowski could lose, they might have dredged up a more credible candidate than Scott McAdams, the mayor of Sitka. McAdams had raised less than $10,000 for the race through June 30, and his website suggests that he isn’t close to ready for prime time.

If Miller comes to Washington, he’ll likely line up with those Republicans who think compromise is a dirty word.

In Arizona, Sen. John McCain’s solid win over challenger J.D. Hayworth means Republicans don’t need to worry about that Senate seat. But some GOPers are already wondering how much Jesse Kelly’s win over Jonathan Paton in Arizona’s 8th C.D. Republican primary damages the party’s prospects against Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.