John Nichols on the primary winners and losers, Ari Berman on governor’s races, and kudos for Katha Pollitt


PRIMARY PALIN: The no-brainer headline from the latest round of partisan primaries reads: “Sarah Palin Wins.” And it does appear that the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate has engineered a remarkable upset in her home state of Alaska, where she backed a newcomer’s challenge to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. Palin’s “constitutional conservative,” Joe Miller, led Murkowski in incomplete returns at press time. No matter what the final numbers reveal, the takeaway has to be that mainstream Republicans have as much to fear from Palin as Democrats do. That’s significant for the remainder of the primary season and the fall.

The knowing headline from the August 24 primaries, which played out from Alaska to Florida, however, would have to be: “Bill Clinton Wins.” The former president waded into the bitter Florida Democratic Senate primary when it seemed that Congressman Kendrick Meek might well lose to eccentric billionaire Jeff Greene. A $30 million spending spree by Greene allowed the “meltdown mogul”—who made his money trading credit default swaps and betting on a financial meltdown—to be competitive enough to throw the race into question.

But Clinton refused to let Meek go down; he headlined five fundraising events, appeared at three rallies in Florida and recorded last-minute robocalls to gin up support for the Congressman. Clinton’s commitment kept Meek in the running as revelations regarding Greene’s financial dealings and personal life chipped away at the billionaire’s poll numbers. In the end, Meek secured a 57–31 landslide that gave the Democrats their only African-American Senate contender with a chance of winning this fall.

Palin and Clinton will face off in Florida, where she’ll be backing Republican Marco Rubio—in a race that also features Governor Charlie Crist running as a moderate independent. And Palin will be elsewhere, providing star power for the GOP in a volatile campaign season where her role will be far more significant than that of the party’s former presidential nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain easily won renomination in his state after a primary contest that split Palin and the Tea Party; she backed her ex–running mate while many grassroots conservatives supported J.D. Hayworth. The result provided more evidence that the Tea Party doesn’t amount to much when Palin fails to attend.

The question as the primaries wind down is whether Democrats will be savvy enough to employ Clinton to full effect in the fall. Even those of us who disagree with the former president on a host of issues have come to recognize during this cycle that— in stark contrast to the cautious Obama team—Clinton has moved with boldness, energy and a good deal of success in races across the country.   JOHN NICHOLS

A MAP OF THINGS TO COME: With so much buzz around the Congressional midterm elections, little attention has been paid to the thirty-seven governor’s races this year, an oddity given that the winners will oversee a sweeping state-by-state redistricting process after the 2010 Census, which will redefine the political map for the next decade.

Perhaps that’s why Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp, the parent company of Fox News, recently donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, run by Mississippi governor and 2012 presidential aspirant Haley Barbour. Murdoch’s was the third million-dollar-plus donation to the RGA this summer, following a $1.48 million check from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and $1 million from oilman David Koch. The RGA has already raised $58 million this cycle, significantly more than the Democratic Governors Association and far above the previous off-year election in 2006.

Democrats currently control twenty-six governor’s mansions. But in the thirty-seven races this year, Republicans are favored in twenty-three, according to projections by the New York Times, with twelve states listed as tossups. Barack Obama won all of them but one (Georgia) in 2008.

News Corp says its donation should not be read as a sign of political bias. “There is a strict wall between business and editorial,” says a company spokesman, a claim that’s hard to take seriously given Fox News’s incessant Obama bashing. Media conglomerates have long tried to buy favor through campaign donations, but the amount of money flooding the system has continued to increase since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Something tells me we ain’t seen nothing yet.   ARI BERMAN

GREETINGS, PARTNER: The Nation Institute, a nonprofit media center with a long and historic partnership with The Nation, named a new president on August 19, Andrew Breslau. Since 2006, Breslau has served as the executive director of City Futures, the parent organization of the Center for an Urban Future. During Breslau’s tenure, the center issued groundbreaking reports documenting the importance of immigrant entrepreneurs to the nation’s economy and the need for cities to invest in strategies to alleviate income disparity.

Previously, Breslau worked at CNN and the Democratic National Committee, and for Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger. He was the founding associate director of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He began his career at Mother Jones.

“The voices that The Nation Institute promotes and nurtures and the issues they raise have never been more important,” says Breslau. “Together, we will continue to challenge conventional wisdom, uncover uncomfortable truths and provoke the kind of vocal debate our nation so desperately needs.”

KUDOS TO KATHA: “Subject to Debate” columnist Katha Pollitt has been awarded a prize for lifetime achievement by the thirty-first annual American Book Awards, hosted by the Before Columbus Foundation. The prize celebrates her contributions as an essayist and a poet. This is Pollitt’s first American Book Award; she will be honored on September 19 at a ceremony in San Francisco. Pollitt is the author of several collections of essays; her most recent books include Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories (2007) and her second collection of poetry, The Mind-Body Problem (2009). Other ABA winners this year include Amiri Baraka, Dave Eggers and Pamela Uschuk.

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