Examining Trends From The Primaries Liane Hansen talks with political analysts Karen Finney and Matthew Continetti about the latest round of primaries and what the resulting trends might portend for key White House agenda items. Finney most recently served for four years as director of communications at the Democratic National Committee. Continetti is a conservative journalist and associate editor of The Weekly Standard.

Examining Trends From The Primaries

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The 2010 midterm election season has reached its midpoint. Twenty-five states have held primary contests and there are 25 more to go before the November general election. The sense of voter anger and public dissatisfaction evident in the races so far is making for a lively election season.

To give us their take at this halfway point, we've invited Karen Finney, political analyst for MSNBC and former director of communications for the Democratic National Committee. Welcome to the program.

Ms. KAREN FINNEY (Political Analyst, MSNBC, Former Director of Communications, Democratic National Committee): Thanks for having me on.

HANSEN: And with her is Matthew Continetti, a conservative journalist and associate editor for The Weekly Standard. Thank you for coming in.

Mr. MATTHEW CONTINETTI (Journalist, Associate Editor, The Weekly Standard): Pleasure to be here.

HANSEN: Let's start off. A number of women candidates claimed victories in races this past week. Here's the list: Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California; Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas; Sharron Angle in Nevada; Elizabeth Mitchell in Maine; and Nikki Haley in the South Carolina gubernatorial primary, who still has to make it through a runoff later this month. Matthew, all Republicans except for one.

Mr. CONTINETTI: That's right, and it's not just looking through the lens of gender here. Nikki Haley, she's a Sikh, she's of Sikh descendants, so she would also be an ethnic bridge being crossed if she were to win the governor's race. Also in South Carolina, Tim Scott, an African-American Republican, very conservative, is now in a runoff with the son of none other than Strom Thurmond to represent South Carolina's first congressional district. And Scott, I think, is going to win. So, there's a lot of symbolic meanings to these primaries and this year's election.

HANSEN: Karen Finney, there are a lot of variables at play, but do you see the trends emerging from these primaries, aside from this anti-incumbency or anti-establishment sentiment?

Ms. FINNEY: Sure. I mean, I think there's a lot we don't yet know. I mean, some interesting information on the table is how I would - 'cause I feel like, you know, every, in the last several months, every time there's an election we're supposed to be looking for - what's the big sign? And one of the things I feel like I learned in 2008 during the Democratic primary is, you know, everything is up for grabs and the voters are going to have their say.

And I think we're seeing that again this cycle where I think voters are unpredictable. I think a lot of the traditional models of what's supposed to happen aren't really holding. I think, you know, the Tea Party movement has certainly shown that it can flex its muscle and elect, you know, raise money, organize, elect candidates. Remains to be seen what happens as those candidates then move into the general election. Does that move the Republican Party farther to the right? What impact does that have?

And, I think for Democrats, you know, I wrote a piece for U.S. News this week -I think Democrats have been on defense in terms of the national narrative for about a year, talking about the economy or health care, you know, things that traditionally people have agreed with us on. I think we sort of lost that narrative.

HANSEN: Matthew Continetti, do you seen trends emerging other than the idea of anti-incumbency or anti-establishment?

Mr. CONTINETTI: One trend I see is that, you know, the theory going into this financial crisis, in the depths of it, was that financial instability, the recession, would make people look to Washington and trust in government solutions. And what we've seen as the crisis and the recession have developed is actually the reverse has happened because many of the solutions proffered by the Obama administration seem not to have affected people's unemployment status or their daily lives.

So, instead of looking to Washington, they're looking to decentralized anti-incumbent, anti-big government solutions. And so that's why you see in some primaries, like the one in Kentucky last month where Rand Paul won, the Tea Party favorite, or the one this past week in Nevada, where Sharron Angle, who was a total unknown but embraced by some elements of the Tea Party, comes a roaring finish in her primary.

When you also look at the fact that Republicans now have a slight lead in the generic congressional ballot despite the party's general unpopularity.

HANSEN: It appears from what both of you are saying, there's a lot happening that defies expectations in these primaries, and one of the strangest stories was Alvin Green's victory in the Democratic primary for Senate in South Carolina. He's unknown, he's an unemployed veteran. Some in the state are calling for an investigation into where he came up with the money to file for election. Now, some say he's a GOP plant. Matthew, is that plausible?

Mr. CONTINETTI: I have no idea where he came from and he's not really actually saying much. He won't disclose where he got the money. Here's the thing though: you can launch an investigation into where he got the money, where he came from, but you know, the fact is he won the election. No matter where he came from, people voted for him by quite an extent, and so now he's the candidate.

Ms. FINNEY: Yeah. You know, I'll tell you what I found disturbing actually in that whole scenario was that the person he was running against, Rawls, only had cash on hand about $187,000, which said to me, you know, raised the question to me - does that mean that the South Carolina Democratic Party, who didn't even know of Mr. Green necessarily, did that mean they'd already kind of given up and assume that Jim DeMint was going to be, you know, the candidate and would win?

That's frustrating because I think as a Democratic Party it's important that we show up everywhere, stand up everywhere and runs candidates. Because I think if we don't then somebody else makes our argument for us. He has said he's not stepping down, so that's going be another race it'll be fun to watch what happens.

HANSEN: Matthew Continetti, what races are you watching this summer?

Mr. CONTINETTI: 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain is having a conservative insurgency from his right by the former congressman and talk show radio host J.D. Hayworth. Now, here's what I'm looking at in this: so far, Sarah Palin has been very canny in some of her endorsements. Now, I personally don't think endorsements matter that much in electoral politics, however it does show you whether the politician making the endorsement has their finger on the pulse of their electorate, their constituency.

And in this case, Sarah Palin's record has been very good so far this year when it comes to Rand Paul, when it comes to Nikki Haley, when it comes to someone like Susanna Martinez, the Republican woman running for governor of New Mexico. Now, who did she endorse in this Arizona election? John McCain. If McCain wins, Palin's track record will continue to be pretty flawless.

HANSEN: Matthew Continetti is a conservative journalist and associate editor for the Weekly Standard. Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and former director of communications for the Democratic National Committee. Thank you both for coming in.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Thank you.

Ms. FINNEY: Thank you.

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