Arkansas Exhibit A for why Obama White House went after Sestak & Romanoff

Jon Ward Contributor
Font Size:

“A party divided” is the Democrats’ attack line, as they have argued for months that the Tea Party is provoking a civil war within the Republican Party. But on Tuesday in Arkansas, most of the political discord was within their own ranks.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s victory in a runoff against attorney general Bill Halter, by a 52 to 48 margin, was also a major defeat for big labor, which poured $10 million into Arkansas on the challenger’s behalf.

Halter’s defeat set off a round of finger-pointing between the White House and labor unions, which have traditionally been a strong ally for the Obama administration. And the exhausting primary fight left Lincoln wearied and with a diminished war chest heading into a general election where she has so far polled well behind Republican nominee John Boozman, a congressman serving his fourth consecutive term.

Top White House officials have said in recent weeks they meddled with primary challengers in Pennsylvania and Colorado because they had “a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight.” Arkansas was Exhibit A for what Democrats wanted to avoid, though the administration’s bungled handling of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff has created more problems than it has solved.

Boozman and national Republicans immediately pounced on Lincoln’s votes in favor of President Obama’s biggest ticket items – the $1 trillion health care law and the $787 billion stimulus bill.

“We are going to run an aggressive campaign making the distinctions clear on Obamacare, card check, cap-and-trade, job killing stimulus legislation and the tax-and-spend initiatives that continue to plunge our nation further into enormous debt,” Boozman said in a statement.

Nonetheless, results in other states showed that the GOP still faces challenges of its own. The party’s nominee to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada – former state lawmaker Sharron Angle – is another insurgent candidate with sometimes doctrinaire Tea Party movement positions, a la Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul.

After defeating a crowded field of Republican candidates in Nevada’s primary Tuesday by winning 40 percent of the vote, Angle became the Democrats’ newest target.

“Like other Tea Party candidates already picked to run for federal office – such as Rand Paul in Kentucky – Angle believes in radical social and economic ideas that would turn back the clock and take America backwards,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.

“From proposing to abolish Social Security and eliminating the Department of Education to advocating for no regulation for Wall Street and repealing health reform, Angle’s views are wrong for Nevadans and dangerous for the country,” Kaine said.

The GOP establishment has been slow to embrace Angle. Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, had plenty of criticism for Reid but little that was positive about Angle in a memo sent to reporters. It was highly similar to the NRSC memo released after Paul’s win last month in the GOP primary.

Sarah Palin didn’t even endorse Angle, who Democrats believe represented their best chance for Reid to retain his seat despite high disapproval ratings in his home state.

However, Paul’s strong libertarian views came under a microscope following his win due to appearances on National Public Radio and “The Rachel Maddow Show,” where he answered questions on whether he would have supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If there’s one thing that national Republican strategists are telling the Angle campaign Wednesday morning, it is to avoid such interviews.

The GOP establishment got what they wanted in California. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina easily won a hard fought primary to face incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer this fall, and former E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman handily defeated a well-financed challenge from businessman Steve Poizner by spending $71 million of her own money.

Fiorina won 56 percent of the vote to Campbell’s 22 percent. State lawmaker Chuck Devore won 19 percent. Whitman defeated Poizner by 64 to 27 percent.

The Republican Party’s choice of Fiorina over former congressman Tom Campbell – Palin did endorse Fiorina, who also had the backing of the party machinery in Washington – was a calculated choice that the cancer survivor had the best shot of unseating Boxer.

Campbell was a smart and able lawmaker with a liberal social platform, who did not have doctrinaire opposition to tax increases. Fiorina, however, embraced pro-life positions and her campaign ridiculed Campbell for refusing to sign a pledge promising not to raise taxes. Fiorina’s campaign also torpedoed Campbell with a whisper campaign about his support for Israel and became known for the most bizarre election video so far this cycle: the demon sheep.

Cornyn said he was “confident that this Senate seat is a prime pick-up opportunity for Republicans in November.”

“Numerous statewide polls have also shown that Carly Fiorina is within striking distance of Barbara Boxer, and I expect that momentum will continue to increase as Carly becomes even more well-known to the electorate,” the Texas Republican senator said.

Cornyn’s criticism of Boxer was similar to the critique of Lincoln, only Boxer has a much longer record of supporting tax and spending increases.

“She has taxed and spent Californians’ hard-earned dollars and idly watched as the Golden State went from a bustling and thriving destination to the state’s current economic disaster,” Cornyn said.

But Democrats went hard after Fiorina for catering to the conservative base and for her record at HP.

“Carly Fiorina has spent the past year defining herself as a right-wing extremist,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “She is against a woman’s right to choose, supports the Arizona immigration law, wants to repeal health care, and supports allowing people on the ‘no-fly’ list to buy guns.”

Menendez also attacked Fiorina for a “record of failure” at HP.

“She nearly drove Hewlett-Packard into the ground, laying-off 32,000 workers and outsourcing many jobs, but still collected a $42 million golden parachute,” he said.

The Boxer campaign announced a new website, FiorinaFacts.com, that has a color graphic showing expensive purchases made by Fiorina during her time as HP CEO contrasted with the company’s falling fortunes during her time there.

The Fiorina campaign has countered attacks on her HP tenure from Campbell with a one-page memo framing her time there as one in which she “made the tough decisions necessary to shake up a stagnating organization” and position it for success.

Fiorina also went on the attack against Boxer in her acceptance speech.

“In her 28 years of being a career politician in Washington, D.C., Barbara Boxer has been a bitter partisan who has said much but accomplished little. She may get an “A” for politics but she gets an “F” for achievement,” Fiorina said.

Email Jon Ward and follow him on Twitter