3 Lessons From Tuesday’s Primaries

UNITED STATES - MAY 30: Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is interviewed outside of Methodist Olive Branch Hospital, after a tour of the facility in Olive Branch, Miss., May 30, 2014. 
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Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
June 25, 2014, 7:45 a.m.

Tues­day’s primar­ies were a fit­ting se­quel to the last round on June 10, when House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor (R) lost his seat. Here are three les­sons we took from a wild primary night:

— Those who best know the rules, like Pres­id­ent Obama‘s 2008 primary cam­paign, will of­ten win the game. Team Co­chran had its flaws, but they ran a bet­ter race than his op­pon­ents in Mis­sis­sippi, start­ing with the key real­iz­a­tion that they should tap black voters who hadn’t par­ti­cip­ated in the June 3 elec­tions (and didn’t want the hard-right Chris McDaniel (R) to win) to vote in the open primary run­off. It was a com­pletely leg­al, reas­on­able, stra­tegic move that ap­pears to have clinched a Co­chran vic­tory that prob­ably couldn’t have happened oth­er­wise.

— Mean­while, an­oth­er les­son on race and polit­ics ree­m­erged in NY-13, where Rep. Charlie Ran­gel (D) nar­rowly leads a primary that hasn’t yet been called. His­pan­ic voters out­num­ber Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans nearly 2-to-1 in Ran­gel’s dis­trict, but trans­lat­ing those pop­u­la­tion num­bers in­to votes isn’t simple, as we also saw in Afric­an-Amer­ic­an Rep. Marc Vea­sey‘s (D) ma­jor­ity-His­pan­ic TX-33 in 2012. Re­l­at­ively high­er black turnout ap­pears to have saved Ran­gel again.

— The third les­son: Most in­cum­bents are still win­ning, but don’t mis­take that for safety (at least the way we’ve known it). As we told sub­scribers two weeks ago, Reps. Doug Lam­born (R-CO) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) were the fore­most can­did­ates for Can­tor-like sur­prises after quiet primar­ies, and at 53% Tues­day night, they both came very close to los­ing. Lam­born is es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing: He’s about as con­ser­vat­ive as you can get, and his chal­lenger was dis­liked by many of Lam­born’s former fierce crit­ics. But Lam­born is just not well-liked by his primary voters. That might have been easi­er to get away with, once upon a time, but primar­ies are prov­ing less and less for­giv­ing for in­cum­bents. More are get­ting pulled in­to dog­fights, in­clud­ing at least 14 mem­bers who fin­ished un­der 60% so far this year.

We’re about to enter a quiet primary spell, with only a few run­offs in Ju­ly. But there is still plenty to think about after last night.
— Scott Bland

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