Mitt Romney’s hat trick in Tuesday’s three primary races came almost as a footnote to the real news — voters are in a feisty mood, and are not afraid to show it.
The former Massachusetts governor triumphed handily in Indiana, North Carolina, and West Virginia, gaining between 65 and 70 percent of the vote in each state. Of course, he was really the only one running.
The interesting contests were more local, and far more contentious.
In Indiana, longtime Republican Senator Richard Lugar was voted out of office after 36 years. The 80-year-old politician, known for his moderate views and his willingness to reach across the aisle, fell to a Tea Party favorite, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
If Mourdock wins in November, as many predict he will, it could signal a legislature even more polarized than the current one.
North Carolina, for its part, will hold its place as one of the country’s most conservative states, voting overwhelmingly on Tuesday for a ban on same-sex marriage.
Amendment One, as it was called, passed with 61 percent of the vote, despite an all-out effort by Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton. Clinton had recorded a robo-call that went out to hundreds of thousands of homes, urging voters to reject the measure.
"If it passes, it won't change North Carolina's law on marriage," said Clinton. "What it will change is North Carolina's ability to keep good businesses, attract new jobs, and attract and keep talented entrepreneurs."
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The issue is a touchy one for Democrats, in the wake of Joe Biden’s rather surprising outburst on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday.
“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” he said.
The vice president’s statement contrasted starkly with the president’s lack of commitment on the issue. Barack Obama has said that his views are still “evolving,” and now, thanks to his second-in-command, the question has once again come front and center.
The voters of North Carolina, however, show no such ambivalence. The state is still in play — a so-called “battleground state” — and the conservative bent of its electorate is not good news for the Democrats, especially since the Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, the first week of September.
Romney got 66 percent of the Republican vote in the state, while Obama scored 79 percent of the Democratic ballots. But “No Preference” came in second, with 21 percent.
The North Carolina House race also spells complications for the Obama campaign. In two districts, prominent “birthers” — people who question Obama’s right to be president on the grounds that he was not born in the United States — have done fairly well.
Jim Pendergraph and Richard Hudson both gained enough votes to force a runoff in their Congressional districts. Dr. John Whitley, however, who was publicly pilloried by Anderson Cooper on CNN Monday evening for his unsupported claim that Obama’s birth certificate was a “poorly reproduced forgery,” is out of the race.
West Virginia was also absurdly interesting. Romney won 70 percent of the vote in the GOP primary, and the Democrats also held their poll on Tuesday. Obama won, of course, as incumbent presidents tend to do — but a convicted felon came in second, with 41 percent of the vote.
Keith Judd, who is serving a 17-year sentence in Texas for some vague offense, somehow got onto West Virginia’s ballot. Listed as a “Rastafarian-Christian” whose most important professional experience, according to his Project Vote Smart biography, is “Band leader, US Air Force,” Judd is a colorful addition to the current lineup.
Sadly, however, he will not be able to cast a ballot for himself — West Virginia does bar convicted felons from voting while incarcerated.
As the campaign unfolds, with all its bumps and bruises, some are sounding the alarm. Democratic political strategist James Carville wrote an op-ed for CNN on Tuesday in which he advised Democrats not to be too complacent — things were not going as well as they might think.
“My message is simple: WTFU. Translated — wake the you-know-what up, there is an earthquake,” he wrote.
Carville is not impressed by the president’s campaign message, baldly stated as “Osama is dead, General Motors is alive.”
“You can shoot five Bin Ladens, you can save 10,000 banks and 20 car companies, even pass the most sweeping legislation in modern American history; if people don't think that you are connected to their lives and are fighting for their interests they will vote your tush out of office in a nano-second,” wrote Carville.
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The Democrats’ best ally, he pointed out, may be the Republican presumptive nominee himself. Romney’s missteps are becoming legendary, as when he calmly erased history on the auto industry bailout.
“I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back,” Mr. Romney told a local news station after a campaign event in Euclid, Ohio.
In numerous conversations with voters in Michigan and Ohio, one thought emerges: Romney is the enemy. He opposed the bailout of the auto industry, and repeatedly said the manufacturers should be allowed to go bankrupt.
“All they have to do is play that tape on a constant loop, and Romney won’t get a single vote in Ohio or Michigan,” said one political expert.
Now here he is, the Etch A Sketch candidate, boldly “reframing” his earlier position.
Carville may have put it best:
“I think, honestly, I think the Romney campaign, and I pointed it out here, I just think they’re bad,” he said last night on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. “And I mean like today, this auto bailout thing — I thought that was an Onion headline when I first saw that.”