Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 12, 2010

HOUSE INCUMBENT TAKEN DOWN IN DEM PRIMARY.... As a rule, House Democratic incumbents fare pretty well in primary campaigns when challenged from the right. There are, however, exceptions.

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) lost his bid for a 15th term Tuesday in a primary defeat that further affirms the anti-incumbent sentiment coursing through the country.

He is the first House member to lose a reelection bid in the 2010 campaign, and his defeat comes days after Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) was knocked off the November ballot in that state's convention process.

Mollohan hadn't faced a serious primary fight in more than a decade and was seen in some circles as unbeatable, given that the state's 1st Congressional District seat had been in his family since 1968. (His father held it for seven terms before he won it.)

But state Sen. Mike Oliverio ran hard against Mollohan's entrenched-incumbent status and made much of the lingering whiff of ethics problems that dogged the congressman for years.

It wasn't especially close -- with nearly all the precincts reporting, Oliverio beat Mollohan, 56% to 44%.

The parallels with Bennett's recent defeat in Utah are a little misleading. Bennett lost because the Republican base decided he wasn't right-wing enough. In West Virginia, Mollohan wasn't "purged" by the Democratic base for being a moderate; the incumbent's challenger was far more conservative than he was.

So, what happened here? Most of the media analysis will focus on the lousy climate for incumbents, and that was certainly part of the equation in WV1. But the variables paint a more complex picture. Mollohan faced a lengthy ethics investigation, and while he never faced formal charges, the probe made it easy for Oliverio to raise questions about the incumbent's integrity.

Moreover, by all accounts, Mollohan simply didn't take the primary threat seriously until it was too late. After 14 terms, he grew complacent. Indeed, in 2008, Mollohan didn't even face a Republican challenger (he also ran unopposed in 2002 and 2000).

The issues didn't help, either. Conservative opponents of abortion rights attacked Mollohan for supporting the Affordable Care Act -- there are a lot of pro-life Dems in West Virginia -- and while Mollohan opposed cap-and-trade, he was perceived as not having fought it aggressively enough.

As for what's next, Republicans conceded that they hoped Mollohan would win the primary, because they saw him as easier to beat in November. In this sense, the Democrats' odds of holding onto the seat may have actually improved slightly in light of the primary results.

But an Oliverio victory in the general election may not mean much to the party in 2011 -- the conservative state lawmaker would vote with Republicans on nearly everything, and has already said he doesn't expect to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Oliverio is, in other words, practically the quintessential "Democrat in Name Only."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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If this guy won't even vote for his own party's Speaker, the national Dems should find an independent candidate and support him/her in the general election. He wants the brand, but won't endorse the product? No business would tolerate that.

Posted by: JMG on May 12, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Oliverio? Sounds like a small bit-part in a Shakespeare tragedy; maybe the tinpot tyrant who betrays his family for power, loses it all, and then falls on his own sword when the real tyrant defeats him....

Posted by: S. Waybright on May 12, 2010 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

Excellent round up; or so says this Dem in WV's 1st Congressional district. I supported Mollohan, but I am aware of Oliverio from his tenure in the State Senate. While Oliverio is to the right of Molloahn, I don't see Oliverio switching parties anytime soon.

The more interesting race to me was the Republican nomination for this seat, which featured six candidates. Four of those candidates were tea party inspired, including Mac Warner, who place second...thankfully.

The Republican that won, McKinley, steered fairly clear of the tea parties, but wasn't foolish enough to alienate the conservatives he will need to win the election. Speaking of the election last nightMcKinley said, "Clearly, what it will be about in the fall is a referendum on (President) Obama. Is this what the people wanted?" he said.

Posted by: Art on May 12, 2010 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

If you thought the Bush Years were a debacle, wait until the "Know-Nothing-Throw-The-Bums-Out!" party takes control of congress.

The 1829 inauguration of Andrew Jackson, where the rabble stormed the White House, broke china, and nearly killed the President, will seem a genteel afternoon tea, compared to the havoc that will beset Washington when these "No Taxes! Cut Spending!" lunatics take the oath of office.

Posted by: DAY on May 12, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

The most perfect example of a product that resembles its packaging by tricks of language . The Tea Baggeurs resemble the reality they espouse by being unable to present a cogent thought to any objection they may be promoting .
In name only , it reminds me of the cycles of quality in Sears power tools . They took bids on contracts to provide a tool that carries the Craftsman name . The once proud names of manufacturers like Black and Decker are no longer made here . Craftsman tools were guaranteed but the general quality of tools seemed to drop off in this system , with local manufacturing disappearing .
I am pretty confident that the quality of rhetoric which has seen a dramatic drop in comprehension , has something to do with the corporate politician subcontracting to Frankie boy Luntz .

Posted by: FRP on May 12, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Oliverio might be courted to switch parties if he is elected and the majority in the House is close.

Posted by: CarlP on May 12, 2010 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

Was this an open primary?

Posted by: Mary Contrary on May 12, 2010 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

"Was this an open primary?"

The Reps and Dems allow independents to "opt in" and vote in their primaries. Dems and Reps must vote in their party's primary.

So it is a semi-open primary.

Posted by: Art on May 12, 2010 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't the Democratic Primary in West Virginia become semi-open, as of April 2007, to allow independents to vote with the registered Democrats? There are many Libertarians who vote as Independents and, in semi-open state, can easily slide from right to left.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 12, 2010 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

The parallels with Bennett's recent defeat in Utah are a little misleading. Bennett lost because the Republican base decided he wasn't right-wing enough. In West Virginia, Mollohan wasn't "purged" by the Democratic base for being a moderate; the incumbent's challenger was far more conservative than he was.

Huh! How is this not largely a distinction without a difference? Both men were attacked from the right and lost. Whether its a 'purge' or not seems largely irrelevant.

Posted by: rrk1 on May 12, 2010 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

If this guy wins the general and the national mood doesn't change, I bet he switches parties before 2012.

Posted by: Naveen on May 12, 2010 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with rrk1 as to the strange nature of "Mollohan wasn't 'purged' by the Democratic base". However, if Libertarians crossing into the primary tipped the balance, then, the Democratic base may have had nothing to do with this. But, in this heated voting climate, it would serve any incumbent to have his or her "Ethical" house in order.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 12, 2010 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

Here in center right Massachusetts you cannot participate in a primary as an undeclared , or independent . You are required to become a member of the party you wish to register a primary vote for .

Posted by: FRP on May 12, 2010 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Here in center right Massachusetts you cannot participate in a primary as an undeclared , or independent . You are required to become a member of the party you wish to register a primary vote for . then you unenroll after you vote in the general, I do it every election.

Posted by: Rick on May 12, 2010 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Before you vote in the general they ask you what party you belong to, tell them unenrolled and you can vote in either primary next time.

Posted by: Rick on May 12, 2010 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

West Virginia's growing redness reflects several social trends that have been going on the last 40 years. Probably the bigest is the decline of the old industrial unions in the state, the United Steelworkers and the United Mineworkers. They were not just entities that represented the workers economic interest but also provided large social organizations and clubs. As Rick Perlstein discusses in "Nixonland" one of the greatest sins of the 1970s era New Democrats was their indifference, if not hostility, to the Union movement (Fred Dutton exemplified this in the period, and in doing so he and the politicians who listened to him failed to do the most important thing a politician can do in a democracy - count.) http://brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/1640/

As the unions, and their well paying jobs have gone, the workers have ended up in retail, medical services, and catch as catch can construction. Socially, they have joined churches, dominated by conservative fundamentalists, who have the agenda on the culture war issue. Also, they have bought the meme that the "Affordable Health Care Act" was all about taking care from them and giving it to "lazy" people who happen to be Brown and Black. "Reparations" it is call on the talk radio circuit.

These folks could be on another planet as far as the bankers in New York think and they recognize that the current Government listens far more to the bankers then to them.

Posted by: sherparick on May 12, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Sadly, how true, sherparick. I recall a former thread producer at this site, writing that he thought transit workers in NYC were overpaid. Far too many on the left believe, "Well, yeah, I guess at one time, they had their place, but.."

Posted by: berttheclock on May 12, 2010 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

don't have the figures in front of me, but obama got hammered in wv in 08...the numbers were much more in line with the northern inland south than the south atlantic states...demographically it's almost all white with an majorty without a college education...i'm not surprised to watch it move right...it's probably "blue in name only" going forward

ps
props to sherparick @ 10:04 for an excellent overview

Posted by: dj spellchecka on May 12, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

I think environmental issues have been a big factor in WV turning red. Its economy is dominated by the coal and chemical industries, both of which often clash with environmentalists.

Posted by: sacman701 on May 12, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, WV -- the state of my birth -- has sadly been running opposite the country's direction since the end of the Clinton administration. From FDR on, it was a Dem stronghold, going GOP only in serious landslides; even Dukakis, and Carter in his losing effort, were able to carry it. But the Dem margins of defeat have been growing since 2000, with cultural issues -- esp. guns and environment vs. coal -- trumping all else. It's possible Hillary would have brought them back some, but, as shown by both the primary and general election of '08, the specter of a black man as president is too much for the state (as the entire Appalachian Valley, the one part of the country that was seriously more Republican in '08 than '04).

For those disagreeing with Steve's point about this being different from the Bennett situation: though the superficials are identical (very conservative guy upending sort of conservative guy), the fact that moderate Mollohan was challenged from the right is ununusual for a DEM primary, where such things come from the left if anywhere. It's not a case of "the base upending the establishment", as Bennett was. I'd guess the fact of unaligned voters being eligible to cast ballots, along with Mollohan's rather serious ethics issues, made this a tough campaign for Mollohan to win, but I don't view it as any national trend.

If this Oliverio won't commit to voting Pelosi speaker, what's the point of the DNC giving him a dime? The only reason to have a numerical majority is to elect a speaker of one's party; calling yourself a Dem and voting Boehner is worth nothing to the party.

Posted by: demtom on May 12, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

The parallels with Bennett's recent defeat in Utah are a little misleading. Bennett lost because the Republican base decided he wasn't right-wing enough. In West Virginia, Mollohan wasn't "purged" by the Democratic base for being a moderate; the incumbent's challenger was far more conservative than he was.

Huh? In both places the change is a shift toward the right; that's more similarity than difference.

It would be nice to think that voters opposed Mollohan because of the ethics challenges, but he brought home the bacon, and voters generally don't vote against that.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on May 12, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

"But an Oliverio victory in the general election may not mean much to the party in 2011 -- the conservative state lawmaker would vote with Republicans on nearly everything, and has already said he doesn't expect to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Oliverio is, in other words, practically the quintessential 'Democrat in Name Only.'"

That's why I no longer donate to the Democratic general campaign funds - why help to elect non-Progressives? Donate, and campaign for, individuals who are committed to progressive government.

Posted by: ghillie on May 12, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Alan Mollohan lost because he no longer represnted the values of Americans. He had become a Globalist. And West Virginians want us to remain The United States of America! So vote to close the borders, let us take care of our own health care, global warming is a hoax, unless China and India have to stop polutting too. Montani Sempre Labiri.

Posted by: John on May 13, 2010 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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