BY JOHN FUND – New York and Delaware Republican voters dumped the choices of their party establishments over the side in a mini-Tea Party last night.
In New York, former Rep. Rick Lazio had been anointed by GOP leaders at a state convention dominated by insiders. But voters were skeptical of Mr. Lazio’s languid style and years of representing Wall Street interests as a lobbyist. They gave an overwhelming victory to Carl Paladino, a blunt-talking Buffalo businessman who told WABC radio that the anti-mosque ads he ran continuously on that talk radio station helped put him over the top.
Mr. Paladino stands little chance of beating Democrat Andrew Cuomo in this fall’s governor race, but perhaps his upset primary win will send a message to GOP insiders that their closed nomination system needs to be reformed. Voters also rebelled against party insiders in Long Island’s 1st Congressional district, where businessman Randy Altschuler delivered a humiliating defeat to Chris Cox, the son of New York’s GOP state chairman.
In Delaware, the voter revolt against party bigwigs was even more pronounced. GOP Congressman Mike Castle had represented Delaware for 18 years in the House, compiling a voting record that made him look as if he would be more comfortable in the Democratic than Republican Party. He had avoided competitive primary challenges for years, using party rules to his advantage.
Last night, his bows to liberalism finally caught up with him as he lost his bid to move up to the Senate after a 53% to 47% primary loss to Christine O’Donnell, a marketing consultant who won key support from the Tea Party Express and Sarah Palin. Ms. O’Donnell’s well-publicized financial problems failed to derail her candidacy, in part because Mr. Castle ran ads touting his record of bringing spending home to Delaware, giving conservatives no reason to vote for him other than his greater electability. And Mr. Castle’s increasingly negative attacks on Ms. O’Donnell clearly didn’t help his cause. Political analyst David Mark points out: “Hard-edged political tactics often backfire in the First State. Voters are on a first-name basis with elected officials, and it’s viewed, fairly or not, as unseemly to so directly attack opponents.”
The GOP party establishment has been rebuked by voters in a series of primaries this year. Rather than rail against ignorant voters and non-mainstream challengers to their authority, perhaps it’s time for party bigwigs to reconnect with voters and drop closed-door party procedures. That’s called meeting the demands of the political marketplace, a concept that should come naturally to a party that claims to embrace open, competitive rules in economics.
For now, former Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate who has served as chair of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, has the best read on last night’s primary results: “The Republican establishment has no cachet right now.”
John Fund is an editorial columnist for the Wall Street Journal