I haven’t had anything to say about the Tuesday primary results from around the country. For the most part, there isn’t much to say about most of the races, but the California Republican primary results have generated some odd liberal commentary that I wanted to discuss. Beinart thinks the California GOP has missed an opportunity to defeat Barbara Boxer by nominating Carly Fiorina for Senate, and Harold Meyerson goes beyond that to declare Fiorina and Whitman unelectable. It’s strange that anyone is talking about the possibility of a Republican Senate pick-up in California, which is not very likely under any circumstances. It probably would have made no difference in the fall if Campbell had won the primary. Aside from some overenthusiastic conservative pundits, no one has ever seriously thought that Boxer was that vulnerable in the first place. It’s true that Fiorina is unelectable on the state level, but this is because of her record of incompetence as the CEO of HP more than anything else. That means that she is more unelectable than Campbell, but it doesn’t mean that Campbell could have actually won.
Unlike Fiorina, Whitman is not a failure as a corporate executive, and she is not running against an incumbent. There is a recent history of California electing Republican governors in the last two decades, including the current governor. California hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1986 (Pete Wilson), and California and the national GOP have been diverging politically ever since. Gubernatorial candidates can accommodate themselves to the political landscape of their state better than Senate candidates. The latter usually have to line up with most national party positions ahead of time, and they will be supporting the national party’s agenda in Congress. It is simply much harder to persuade Californians to send someone who will be a reliable vote for the Senate Republican leadership in Washington than it is to persuade them to bring in an executive to take care of the budget in Sacramento. That doesn’t mean that Whitman is going to win, but her chances were always going to be much better than any Republican running for Senate.
New Mexico is somewhat similar to California in this respect. Our state is heavily Democratic and predominantly Hispanic and Native American, but we periodically elect and sometimes re-elect Republican governors, including someone as fiscally conservative and libertarian-minded as Gary Johnson. When it comes to representation in the Senate, New Mexicans haven’t elected a non-incumbent Republican for Senate in over thirty years, and since Domenici retired Republican candidates have not done well here. This year Susana Martinez has a decent chance to defeat Lt. Gov. Denish in the gubernatorial race, but in an open race for Senate the Republican candidate would be fortunate to win 45%. In the 2008 open Senate race, Udall’s opponent Steve Pearce underperformed the McCain ticket and received just under 39% of the vote. Fiorina will be lucky if she does that well.