Tuesday, August 30, was a very big day for the Establishment in both political parties. Four hotly contested races left the insurgencies in both parties reeling as well-known, experienced, well-financed candidates drubbed their opponents.
In Florida, Senator Marco Rubio easily defeated a challenge from homebuilder Carlos Beruff who sank more than $8 million of his own money into the Republican primary for Senate. Rubio had been a favorite by the GOP establishment for the Republican nomination for President – and on almost everyone’s short list for Vice President — just months ago. Then he saw his fortunes reversed when he was drubbed in his home state’s Presidential primary last March. Lots of pundits, including me, thought Rubio was finished in politics at least for a while because he had sunk very low in trying to do a tete-a-tete with Trump and had come off looking very bad. On Tuesday, he defeated Beruff by 53 points.
Rep. Deborah Wasserman-Schultz had a very bad year up until Tuesday. Distrusted by Senator Bernie Sanders and blamed for stacking the Democratic Party’s deck against the Vermont Senator, she was booed at the Democratic National Convention and forced to step down as the Party’s chairperson. Her opponent, law professor and Sanders supporter Tim Canova, ran a spirited race and raised a ton of money. But Sanders refused to campaign for Canova and Canova seemed to trash Sanders late in the campaign. In any event, Wasserman-Schultz had the support of both President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden – and received a surprise visit from Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last month. The incumbent won by 14 points.
In the Florida Democratic primary for the US Senate, Rep. Pat Murphy staved off a challenge from Rep.Alan Grayson. For a while the race looked close but Grayson was a troubled candidate and particularly hurt by late campaign charges of domestic abuse by his former wife and leaked emails from his staff telling him to shut down a hedge fund he manages. In the end, Murphy won 59% to 18% and he will face Rubio in November in what looks to be a close match up.
And in Arizona, 80 year old icon Senator John McCain beat a Tea Party and Trump-supporting challenger by State Senator Kelli Ward. While McCain faces a stiffer challenge in November, he ended up trouncing Ward who suggested that McCain could die before finishing a new term.
So candidates who represented the parties’ elites won big while the radicals lost. Does this mean that insurgencies represented by the Tea Party and Donald Trump on the GOP side and by Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side are finished? And does this portend a victory by the ultimate establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, in November?
Hold your horses. Not quite yet. There were extenuating circumstances in each of the races this past week. Wasserman-Schultz, despite her problems as a party leader nationally, always maintained a solid relationship with her district and her office’s constituent services. Murphy and McCain both had the good fortune to run against distasteful wild cards. And Rubio has loads of charm and charisma – and I guess Florida just did not want him to be President just yet.
The Presidential race is another matter still. Both nominees represent challenges of their own making and both are intensely disliked by majorities of voters. And both are polling dismally in the low forties or high thirties even at this late stage. It is too soon to draw conclusions on who will ultimately show up on November 8th. A poll conducted by PPP this past week shows a very close race for the Presidency between Clinton and Trump. But President Obama would defeat Trump by 13 points – 54%to 41%. The anger persists. The white middle class is ready to elect Trump while Hispanics, Latinos and Asians are hugely supportive of Clinton. And, perhaps the wildest card of all, independents barely support either candidate – with a huge number still undecided. There is a whole lot of campaign and perhaps some surprise revelations to come.