Five states went to the polls yesterday, which gives the political press another occasion to tell you What It All Means. What it actually all means: We still have no idea what’s going to happen in November. In some places, an outsider was able to pick off the established candidate. And in others, the establishment was able to beat back an outsider. One thing is for sure: Sarah Palin had a great night.
Four of Palin’s five endorsees won their races, and the fifth, Alaskan Joe Miller, is on the cusp of a major upset. Miller, a former state court judge who looks like an Alaskan Chuck Norris, is leading Senator Lisa Murkowski by a few percentage points. It’s far-flung Alaska, so only 77 percent of precincts have reported, and absentee ballots still need to be counted. Few had heard of Miller until a few months ago, when Palin and the tea party endorsed him over Murkowski, perhaps because of an old rivalry Palin has with the Murkowski family. Palin beat Lisa’s father, Frank, to become Alaska’s governor in 2006.
Miller was outspent ten to one in the primary, and not a single poll suggested he had a shot at winning. That led many to wonder whether Palin still had any sway in Alaska. Note to press corps: don’t count your Mama Grizzlies until they’ve roared. To be sure, Palin's support didn't extend much beyond a few statements on Facebook and Twitter. Miller is ascribing his late success to a ballot referendum on whether parents should be notified before their kid has an abortion. Both Miller and Murkowski supported the measure, but Murkowski is broadly pro-choice, and Miller made sure everybody knew it.
Over on the other side of the 2008 GOP ticket: Lo and behold, John McCain still knows how to win a campaign. After some tense moments, McCain ran away with Arizona’s Republican Senate primary. He beat his opponent, former congressman J.D. Hayworth, by a nearly two-to-one margin. All it took was $20 million in ads, a double-down on the GOP party line, and an embrace of Arizona’s severe illegal-immigrant law. Now that he’s won the primary, he’s nearly assured of a fifth term in the Senate — he’s expected to soundly beat his Democratic challenger, Rodney Glassman. By the time it ends, he’ll be 80 years old.
Elsewhere in Arizona, Ben Quayle — the guy who looked like he was auditioning for American Psycho 2 when he said Barack Obama is the “Worst. President. In history.” — is one step closer to going to Washington and knocking the hell out of the place. Quayle pulled away from a pack of challengers to win the Republican nomination for the House district north of Phoenix. That whole thing when he pretended to have kids? Never mind that. He’s a Quayle — these things happen.
In Florida, Rick Scott (net worth: $219 million) emerged victorious over his opponent, Bill McCollum. Scott blitzed the airwaves and, with the help of a closely allied political committee, spent nearly $39 million. The ads didn’t just get nasty, they got scatological. One compared McCollum, Florida’s attorney general, to a dirty diaper that needed to be changed.
McCollum, meanwhile, reeked of the establishment. A career politician, he tried to use the attorney general slot as a step to the governor’s mansion. And despite being outspent three to one on the air, he nearly pulled it off. He was slightly favored in polls leading up to primary night, largely because of a massive Medicare scandal at Scott’s former health-care firm.
But ultimately, McCollum couldn’t stop the guy who stopped the public option. Scott is a favorite of the right for his work against what Obama’s health-care bill could’ve been. He led the fight to strip Obamacare of the public option, which for Republicans is tantamount to stopping the spread of socialism. McCollum, meanwhile, was just the guy who hadn’t been involved in the biggest Medicare fraud settlement of all time. But in Florida circa 2010, that’s not enough to win a primary.
Florida’s other outsider candidate who happened to be obscenely rich didn’t fare as well. Jeff Greene (net worth: $1.4 billion) was not able to convince Florida, a state that saw one in every twenty houses foreclosed in 2008, that a man who earned his money shorting the subprime housing market deserved to be its Senator. Greene lost to Congressman Kendrick Meek by more than twenty points in the Democrats’ Senate primary. Meek will face Republican Marco Rubio and newly Independent Charlie Christ in the general election.
Palin will almost certainly endorse Rubio. But by November, she may be no longer be America's equivalent of the psychic World Cup octopus. Remember, we still have no idea what's going to happen in November. Especially if Sarah Palin is involved.