Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Keystone uprising...and Al Gore rising?

So now we finally have solid empirical evidence that actual voters are in open revolt against the Republicans, also known as the incumbent governing party. I need look no further than the primary results last night in my own state.

Granted, the 12 fallen Republican incumbents were only state legislators, so maybe it's wrong to interpret these results as symptomatic of the national political mood. But Robert Jubelirer, the defeated state Senate President Pro Tempore, wasn't born yesterday, and he's the one who says "It is a historic year, my friends."

Jubelirer was ousted after 32 years in office, and Senate Majority leader David Brightbill, a 20-year veteran, suffered the same fate. Brightbill lost to a tire salesman whose ex-lover was suing him. This is the first time that top state legislative leaders have been ejected from their jobs since the year that the Philadelphia Phillies blew the pennant with 10 straight losses (that would be 1964).

Jubelirer had to spend $1.3 million on his primary campaign, but was beaten by a guy who spent around $200,000. Both leaders were punished for giving themselves a pay raise in a bill that passed at two in the morning, for enacting a series of state income tax hikes, and for expanding the size of state government at twice the rate of inflation. Grassroots Republican voters, using the Internet, spread word that the incumbents were arrogant and out of touch.

All told, this is shaping up to be the largest primary season turnover of Pennsylvania legislative seats in 30 years. One can argue that this is just a local squall. On the other hand, the grievances that animated conservative Pennsylvania voters last night (free-spending incumbents, betraying the GOP philosophy) are roughly similar to the current conservative base complaints against the GOP Congress in Washington.

It's also useful to remember that Pennsylvania in the past has foreshadowed the national mood; witness the special U.S. Senate election in 1991, when underdog Democrat Harris Wofford trounced ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh by 10 percentage points, riding a wave of voter discontent over Republican inaction on health care and the economy. Bill Clinton won the presidency a year later.

By the way, there was one noteworthy GOP congressional primary race last night, in northeastern Pennsylvania. Three-term Republican congressman Don Sherwood got slapped around pretty badly. In both 2002 and 2004, this guy was untouchable; he didn't have to run in any primaries, because he never drew any challengers from within the GOP ranks. But this year was different, thanks to a little contretemps that sullied his conservative family-man image:

It turns out that Sherwood had a mistress 35 years his junior; this became widely known after the woman, Cynthia Ore, filed a $5.5-million lawsuit against Sherwood, claiming that he had tried to choke her while giving her a back rub at his Capitol Hill apartment. (Ore had called 911 at the time.) The suit was settled last November, but the uproar prompted an underdog Republican to challenge him in the primary. Sherwood wound up spending $300,000; the challenger, a political novice, spent around $5000.

Sherwood survived last night, but with with only 56 percent of the vote. Now he has to face Democrat Chris Carney, a former Pentagon intelligence officer, in November. He may well survive that faceoff - he represents a heavily Republican district - but this race is now listed by the nonpartisan National Journal as one of the 50 most competitive House races in 2006.

In a normal incumbent-friendly year, there's no way that Sherwood would crack the top 50. Kinky back rub, notwithstanding.

On another topic entirely, I recall some weeks ago saying that it would be wise, regarding the 2008 Democratic presidential race, to keep an eye on Al Gore. The Wall Street Journal said the same thing nine days ago.

I'll say it again today. Leaving aside the fact that in recent months he has landed on the cover of three magazines and helmed the opening sketch on Saturday Night Live, he has now dropped a hint that his political ambitions might yet be freed from his lockbox. On Monday in Atlanta, he said: "I’m a recovering politician. But you always have to worry about a relapse.”

One sign that he's being taken seriously as a public figure: A business group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is bankrolled in part by Exxon, intends to head off Gore's new global warming documentary by inveighing against "global warming alarmism."

Well, as attacks go, that's not so bad. At least Big Oil isn't painting him as a liar who claimed to have invented the Internet. (Which, for the record, he never claimed to have done.)