Democratic and Republican primaries held in five states on Tuesday were dominated by multi-millionaire candidates, right-wing politics and the participation of scant numbers of voters.
The primaries took place in five states--Arizona, Florida, Alaska, Vermont and Oklahoma--and are among the last to be staged before November's midterm elections. They failed to produce the sweeping anti-incumbent movement widely predicted in the media and left the outcome of the upcoming general election very much in doubt. The results reconfirmed only one certainty: the politics of both big business parties are shifting rapidly to the right.
In the states with the most hotly contested races--Florida, Arizona and Alaska--election officials gave preliminary voter turnout estimates that were little changed from the last midterm primaries in 2006, hovering in all three states around the 20 percent mark. In Florida, the percentage of voters participating in the primaries was roughly half what was recorded in 2008.
The lack of any surge to the polls is indicative of the widespread hostility to both parties in the general population. It is also one more indication that the so-called "Tea Party" movement touted by the mass media is largely a creation of the media itself, representing little more than the most right-wing sections of the Republican Party.
The principal success attributed to this supposed movement Tuesday came in Alaska, where little-known Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller appeared poised to deprive incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski of the Republican nomination. With barely 100,000 people voting in the contest, Miller had approximately a 1,500-vote lead, leaving the final outcome to be decided by still-uncounted mail ballots.
Murkowski was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by her father, Frank Murkowski, when he took office as Alaska governor, leaving his term in Washington unexpired. She subsequently won an election in 2004.
Miller, who was endorsed by former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, campaigned against Murkowski's vote for the 2008 bailout of the banks and her record of voting in favor of abortion rights. This latter issue was amplified by a ballot initiative that would require doctors to notify parents of teenage girls seeking abortions. The measure was thought to have brought out more Christian fundamentalist voters, who favored Miller over Murkowski.
If Murkowski is unseated, she will be the third US senator to lose a seat to a primary challenger in the current election cycle. A count of the absentee ballots is not expected until next week.
A similar challenge in Arizona fell flat, however, with incumbent Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, beating his rival, another supposed Tea Party favorite, former congressman J.D. Hayworth, by a 24 percent margin.
McCain spent $21 million in the race, while repudiating his former positions on immigration and other issues on which he had been challenged by the Republican right. He also conducted an ad campaign attacking his challenger as a "huckster" for his appearances in 2007 infomercials promising "free money" from the government in what many charged was a scam.
It was Florida, however, that saw the most consequential contests and also provided the starkest exposure of the depravity of America's capitalist two-party system, dominated by big money, corruption and political reaction. The race for a vacant Senate seat could decide which party controls the body. The state also plays a pivotal role in presidential elections, and the race for governor has strong bearing on which party will dominate the redrawing of the electoral maps in 2012, a process that is traditionally used to gerrymander districts to favor either the Republicans or Democrats.
On the Republican side, the gubernatorial race pitted Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum against the multi-millionaire former hospital CEO Rick Scott in a battle to prove who could adopt the most right-wing position on issues such as immigration and abortion.
In the early stages of the campaign, Scott had attacked McCollum for failing to support the anti-immigrant law overturned by a Federal court in Arizona. McCollum sought to counter this challenge by crafting an even "tougher" law for Florida, one that would not only order local and state police to target undocumented immigrants, but also jail legal immigrants caught on the streets without their immigration documents. It would also allow courts to impose stiffer criminal sentences against immigrants than other defendants.
Some political analysts attributed McCollum's defeat to anger over the proposed legislation within Florida's substantial Cuban-American Republican base. Scott cynically attacked McCollum over his proposed bill, broadcasting campaign ads in Spanish calling it "disrespectful" to "our community."
On the issue of abortion, McCollum ran to the right of Scott, attacking him for failing to oppose the right to abortion even in the case of incest and rape.
Scott retaliated by dredging up a 20-year-old legal case stemming from the delivery of a premature infant at a hospital run by Columbia/HCA, the for-profit hospital chain that he founded.