With Tuesday’s primary election behind us, it’s time to evaluate: to evaluate the results; to evaluate the tactics and their effectiveness; and to evaluate the political landscape as we move toward the general election in November.
So, first the primary election results: Shocking in some cases, predictable in others, but in the end, the needle moved very little. Last week we talked about how Democrats pretty much march lock-step while the Republicans are split into two very different factions. In the Montana legislature, the Conservative faction makes up almost 90% of the Republican caucus and still adheres to the party platform on issues such as life, marriage, smaller government and lower taxes. The liberal wing of the Republican caucus, for the most part, ignores the platform and in some cases, scores worse on the Montana Family Foundation legislative scorecard than do some members of the Democrat caucus. They have helped Governor Bullock in the last two sessions to grow government spending and regulation. They only make up about 10% of the Republican caucus, but their numbers are large enough when combined with the Democrats, to push a very liberal agenda. Surprisingly, some of them come from the most Conservative districts in Montana and shockingly, all of them won re-election on Tuesday. Also shocking was the fact that for all the money the liberal Republicans spent trying to unseat Conservatives, they were, for the most part, unsuccessful. There were a couple of cases where Conservatives were ousted, but there were also cases where moderates who were termed out were replaced by Conservatives.
The big take-away is something that I mentioned two years ago, and that’s the power of the incumbency. It appears that spending big bucks trying to oust incumbents is a losing proposition. In our opinion, that money would be better spent trying to affect races in districts with open seats. Going after incumbents and losing just makes it harder to work with them in the next legislative session. It will be interesting to watch groups like the Montana Contractors Association and the Montana Farm Bureau try to play “kiss and make up” after unsuccessfully attacking so many Conservatives in this primary cycle.
So what’s the bottom line? At this point, it is certain that the moderates will control the Montana Senate. Although the Republicans will have a numerical majority, the liberals within the Republican caucus will give the working majority to the Democrats. On the House side, the jury is still out. Two prominent Conservative Republicans lost their re-election bids, but in other cases, Conservatives replaced liberal Republicans who were termed out.
In essence, it’s still a donnybrook and will come down to the outcome in about five races where Conservative Republicans are facing Democrats in swing districts. It’s fair to say the Republicans will maintain control of the House. The question is whether they will have a working majority or simply a numerical majority. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
From the voters’ perspective, we can expect a short reprieve as candidates take a breath. Then it’s on to the general election in the fall. From a Conservative perspective, the primaries were neither as good, nor as bad, as they could have been. Let’s hope we do better in the fall.