Be careful how much you read into last night's election results.
November is poised to be a national election — a referendum on the Obama presidency and the effectiveness of Democratic rule.
What we saw Tuesday night was a collection of local races — each compelling in its own story lines. But each oddly detached from the broader dynamics that will be in play this fall.
Start with Kentucky, where Rand Paul bested the corporate Republican Trey Grayson in the GOP senate primary. This is a big fucking deal, to borrow vice presidential verbiage, because Grayson was Mitch McConnell's guy. The senate minority leader had effectively forced his fellow Kentuckian Jim Bunning to retire, and had picked Grayson as the newest cog in the machine Kentuckians call McConnell Inc.
But then along comes Rand Paul, the anti-establishmentarian Tea Party darling — and he lays waste to McConnell's stooge. This is a juicy drama as far as it goes. But it really doesn't go any farther than Kentucky.
Paul was a viable candidate not because of his Tea Party backing, but because he tapped into Dr. Daddy's Money Machine. Rand Paul is the son of Ron Paul, the former Republican presidential candidate, and the same 'moneybombs' that gave Ron odd clout in 2008 turned Rand into a frontrunner. But this isn't a generalizable equation. This scale of resources is not available to all Tea Party candidates (sorry, J.D. Hayworth!).
Meanwhile, whatever differences divide the corporatist McConnell and the anti-government Paul, they're united in a the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend kind of deal against Obama & Co. In short, their feud will be papered over until such point as the GOP regains majority control of the Senate — which ain't happening in 2010.
Now let's look at Pennsylvania. Former Republican Sen. Arlen Specter got the boot last night from Democratic voters. This shouldn't shock anyone. First, Specter's ancient and campaigned poorly. Second, though Specter's been a serviceable Democrat since his party switch, the switch itself was a maneuver Liebermanesque in its arrogance — putting political self-preservation above all else. Third, Specter's opponent, former admiral Joe Sestak, is a serious fucking guy with a solid, big-D Democratic resume and a very smart political team. That's a potent combo regardless of any anti-incumbent fever. As the saying goes: The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.
Pennsylvania also hosted the only race that pitted a Democrat against a Republican in PA-12, Rep. Jack Murtha's old district. Democrats are right to crow about this one. They held onto the seat despite the fact that John McCain carried this district handily in 2008. But consider that there was no incumbent to oust here. Indeed, given how much crazy cash Murtha brought to the district, the Democrat Mark Critz' longtime links to the master appropriator were actually a boon rather than a drag on his candidacy. And now consider too that both the Democrat and the Republican campaigned by railing against Obama on health care, and that Critz is also anti-choice and devoutly pro-gun.
The Republican Party and its shadow groups dropped a lot of cash into this race and came up empty. That's important. But anyone who believes this is strong evidence against a GOP wave may just end up all wet in November.