McCain, although he calls himself a conservative, isn’t well-liked by the tea partiers because of his past moderate stances on issues like immigration and campaign finance reform — and the fact that he lost the 2008 presidential race to Barack Obama. But in this race, the old Republican establishment showed that it may have more staying power than many thought.
The real question for McCain now is, who is he? In order to beat Hayworth, the former Navy pilot had to bank hard to the right. But now that he’s the nominee, will reinvent himself in the image of Barry Goldwater or be who he has been: a bipartisan conservative who takes a moderate stance on many issues?
If he is the latter, can he steer the Republican Party away from the tea party’s right-wing extremism?
In other races Tuesday, the results were better for tea party candidates. In Alaska, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, was trailing Joe Miller, and when the absentees are all counted — perhaps as early as today — he is expected to be the GOP nominee for the Senate.
Miller, who had the backing of former Gov. Sarah Palin, was boosted by his support of a parental notification measure for teens seeking abortions. That issue drew many late deciders to the polls in what would have been a low-turnout primary. In the weeks leading up to the election, no poll showed Miller with an edge.
In Florida, another tea party candidate, millionaire health care executive Rick Scott, surprised many by winning the Republican nomination for governor, beating the party’s favored candidate, Bill Collum, with a campaign that included a get-tough approach to illegal immigration.
In Florida’s U.S. Senate race, Marco Rubio easily won the GOP nomination, defeating two lesser-known challengers, but in November, the ultraconservative candidate will have to face Gov. Charlie Crist, as well as a young African-American congressman, Kendrick Meek, in a three-way race.
Crist, a moderate Republican, became an independent candidate after his embrace (literally) of President Obama and his federal stimulus for Florida drove many conservatives into the arms of Rubio, who ran Crist out of the party.
As an independent, Crist, who was considered as a possible running mate for McCain in 2008, hopes he can hold onto enough of his moderate Republican base and siphon off enough of Kendrick’s more conservative Democratic voters to take the Senate seat in a state that is sharply and almost evenly divided along partisan lines. My guess is that he’ll have a good chance.
I will also venture to say that if the GOP continues to pick ultraconservative tea party candidates, it will drive more swing voters in some states toward the Democrats. This would be more likely, however, if the Democrats would nominate more moderates and Blue Dog conservatives instead of liberal candidates.
In Kentucky, polling shows it’s unlikely Attorney General Jack Conway will win the Senate race, even against someone as radical as Rand Paul. But if Paul were running against Congressman Ben Chandler, or someone in the mold of Virginia’s Jim Webb, Indiana’s Evan Bayh or Tennessee’s former congressman Harold Ford Jr., I believe Paul would take a drubbing in November.
It seems, however, that in both parties, it’s always the candidates on the fringe who get the nominations, while the voters who decide the elections are the independents and moderates in the middle who seldom have choices who reflect their values.
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