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.