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Female Candidates Dominate Latest Round of Primary Elections

June 9, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Following Tuesday's series of 12 primaries and run-off elections, Judy Woodruff wraps up the wins and losses across the country with Dan Balz of The Washington Post and Amy Walter of The Hotline.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Yesterday was one of the busiest primary days of the 2010 election cycle, and there were some unexpected results.

From South Carolina to California, and Nevada to Arkansas, this primary night belonged to the women. In Arkansas, two-term Senator Blanche Lincoln won the Democratic Party runoff against Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, who had the support of labor unions and liberal activist groups.

Speaking last night in Little Rock, Lincoln said Arkansas voters let out a message that’s loud and clear.

SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN, D-Ark.: And that message was that the vote of this senator is not for sale, and neither is the vote of the people of Arkansas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, in Nevada’s Republican Senate primary, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle topped former state party chair Sue Lowden and businessman Danny Tarkanian.

Angle quickly pivoted to her general election opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

SHARRON ANGLE, R, Nevada Senatorial candidate: This campaign is about opposing “tax and spend, let’s make a deal, politics as usual” Washington, D.C. corruption that has taken a claim on our senior senator, Harry Reid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican voters in California backed two former corporate executives as their Senate and gubernatorial nominees. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will challenge Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. And former eBay CEO Meg Whitman will face off against state Attorney General Jerry Brown for governor.

In South Carolina’s Republican gubernatorial primary, Nikki Haley received 49 percent of the vote, just shy of the majority she needed to avoid a runoff later this month. Her opponent will be Congressman Gresham Barrett.

Haley overcame allegations of infidelity by two men in recent weeks, which she vehemently denied. She said, South Carolina voters had had enough.

NIKKI HALEY, R, South Carolina gubernatorial candidate: We said no to inside deal-making and backroom politics.

NIKKI HALEY: And this last two or three weeks, we said no to the dark side of politics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Haley, an Indian-American, would be the first woman and racial minority to be elected governor of South Carolina.

And to make sense of last night’s results, we are joined once game by Amy Walter, editor and chief of The Hotline, “National Journal’s” political daily, and Dan Balz, senior political reporter for The Washington Post.

Thank you both for being back with us, a lot to cover.

Dan, I’m going to start with you. Any overriding message out of what happened yesterday?

DAN BALZ, chief political reporter, The Washington Post: Well, I think, in some ways, the overriding message is that the overriding message that we have been following all year isn’t necessarily going to prevail in every election.

And I think that was certainly the case in Arkansas, where Blanche Lincoln, who was the — said to be the potential victim of anti-incumbent sentiment, managed to survive by kind of turning the tables on her opponent.

And we — we see that in a variety of places. I think that there’s no question, as we have said many times, that this is a year that sets up much better for Republicans than Democrats, but there are underlying factors that make some of those races more difficult to predict.

And, certainly, the fall is going to be very competitive, and, at this point, somewhat unpredictable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hard to predict.

AMY WALTER, editor in chief, The Hotline: Well, it is, and I want to build on Dan’s point, which is, sometimes, it’s getting hard now to decide who is the insider and who is the outsider anymore.

Everybody is trying to remake themselves as an outsider. Blanche Lincoln started this race clearly as the incumbent, Bill Halter, the lieutenant governor, as the outsider. By the time we got to the end of this campaign, she was the one under siege. She was the one being attacked by outside special interest groups, which was labor spending a lot of money.

She was the underdog. And I think she did, very effectively, turn the tables, as Dan said, and made herself the outsider. We’re seeing that across the board, where candidates who a couple of years ago would have been proud of the fact that they were a sitting state legislator or sitting in Congress now are saying, well, actually, I’m the real outsider in this case.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Dan, is that how Blanche Lincoln turned it around, because, just a few nights ago, all of us were thinking she was going to lose?

DAN BALZ: I think there were a lot of people who thought she was going to lose.

I think a couple of things happened there. One is, I think, in some ways, labor got too high a profile in the race, and it allowed Blanche Lincoln, as Amy said, to become the sort of the person fighting the establishment, rather than being part of the establishment.

There’s no question that former President Bill Clinton had an important role to play. And I think President Obama played a more important role than a lot of people had given him credit for, particularly in the African-American community.

And she ran a very effective primary. I talked to some labor people today, and they gave her credit and said that she got the jump on them during runoff, and they, in the end, weren’t able to overtake her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in the fall, Amy, she’s facing a tough opponent.

AMY WALTER: She is facing a tough opponent.

Now, she’s facing another person who has a D.C. mailing address, which is — in some ways is good news for her. He can’t say that he’s not part of the establishment. He also can’t attack her for her vote on the bank bailout, the so-called TARP program, because he voted for it, too.

But what he is going to tie her to is the Obama administration, her votes that were in step with the Obama administration. This is what’s interesting about this primary. We talked about this the other day, the fact that she is setting herself up as the centrist. She did that in that package piece, saying, you know, my vote can’t be bought.

But, at the same time, she did have to run to the left in that primary. She talked about she was the deciding vote on health care and the stimulus. Republicans are going to use that against her in the fall.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, let’s move to the Senate race in Nevada, where the latecomer, Sharron Angle, favorite of the Tea Party, has now won the Republican primary. What does this mean for Harry Reid?

DAN BALZ: Well, if you talk to the Democrats, they feel much happier today than they did a few weeks ago about the way this race may play out.

They had been worried that the likely opponent was going to be Sue Lowden. And, in fact, it was, in the end, Sharron Angle. Sharron Angle, obviously, has energy. And this is another sign of the Tea Party’s power, particularly within the Republican Party. And she will have a lot of energy behind her as she goes into the fall.

But she is a more conservative candidate. She has said some things that the Democrats are going to try to use to paint her as far out of the mainstream, even in a conservative state like Nevada. And I think that the Democrats think that, though Harry Reid is still quite vulnerable and in a weakened position, that he may have a better chance of surviving today than he did not too long ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, let’s move to California, because there are two races there to talk about. Barbara Boxer now knows she’s going to be running against Carly Fiorina as the Republican who won the Republican primary we’re showing right there.

What should we know about Fiorina coming out of this?

AMY WALTER: Well, I think what we should know is, her profile is that of someone who is a businessperson. She’s going to talk a lot about the fact that she wants to bring those — those credentials to Washington.

We heard a lot in the setup piece about, we’re going to get rid of politics as usual. She is going to try to be the outsider here, running against a longtime incumbent, Barbara Boxer.

At the same time, I think that her tenure at H.P. is going to be a big issue in this race. Certainly, the Boxer folks, Democrats, are going to want to talk about her — the way in which she left there, not under particularly good terms. She got a very nice buyout package.

And in a year where voters are so frustrated right now about all the talk on Wall Street and the bonuses there, they’re certainly going to make that an issue. And the — the abortion issue is also going to be a big factor there, saying this is a state that has not elected someone to the Senate who is not supportive of abortion rights. They’re going to try to push her as far to the right as they possibly can.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, this may be Barbara Boxer’s toughest opponent so far.

DAN BALZ: I think that’s probably right. And it’s in part because this is a much more difficult year for any Democratic incumbent to try to be running.

As Amy said, I think the profile of Carly Fiorina gives Barbara Boxer some things to try to fight back against her. And, in many ways, I think, at this point, it’s still Boxer’s race to lose. But it will be a very competitive fight. And these are two very strong candidates and campaigners who are ready to go toe to toe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, Dan, Jerry Brown, who is familiar to a lot of people, former governor of California, is going to be running against Meg Whitman, with deep, deep pockets.

DAN BALZ: This is a wonderful race, and, in some ways, in my mind, the metaphor for all of 2010, because, on the surface, it’s the classic matchup. It’s the outsider vs. the insider. It’s the career politician against the newcomer, the novice.

But, if you get a little below the surface, you find that there are other elements of it that will make it more complex for California voters to decide what they really want. Jerry Brown, though he has spent a lifetime in politics, has often spent time fighting the Democratic establishment and being something of an outsider.

And Meg Whitman, as a corporate CEO in a year in which corporate America is not everybody’s favorite friend, will have to answer about some of her ties to Goldman Sachs, and also demonstrate, after Arnold Schwarzenegger, that she can make Sacramento as an outsider, and not as somebody with a lot of experience.

So, this is going to be a wonderful and interesting race, and, as you say, one that’s going to break all records for spending.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it’s often said California may be the toughest state in the country to govern.

Amy, all the way across the country, to South Carolina, everybody was talking about that race. Nikki Haley just barely missed getting 50 percent. She’s got a runoff, but she’s now considered to be the favorite. What’s the lesson here?

AMY WALTER: I wish — well, one is, can you actually run a gubernatorial race where a candidate agrees to take a lie-detector test? That’s — that was, to me, one of my favorite parts here.

But I think the lesson is that this is a great case where the anti-establishment candidate was able to still keep that mantle, even as she was being attacked. And, in fact, the more she was attacked, the more she grew in stature, because what I think she was able to tap into was a frustration among South Carolina voters that had become something of a laughing stock, right, after the Mark Sanford debacle, et cetera, that they wanted to be proud of the person that they elected, and it looked like this was sort of a smear campaign.

I think what really broke — the straw that broke the camel’s back was the racial epithet made by a state — Republican state senator about her on the radio. And I think that was really the issue where a lot of voters said, you know what? We don’t want to continue to be on Comedy Central and a Jon Stewart punchline. Let’s put this person who is going to make history, you know, into the governor’s mansion.

I think this is a woman, who if she succeeds, is somebody that the Republican Party is going to use and as sort of their new rising star. I fully expect to see her in 2012 giving some sort of address at the convention, whether it’s the keynote or et cetera. But she is somebody that they’re going to be spending a lot of time grooming.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, finally, how significant that women, especially Republican women, did so well across the country yesterday?

DAN BALZ: Well, I think it is significant.

I mean, we have — we have always talked about the year of the woman at different times during the campaigns, but, usually, it’s been about Democratic women. And this is a case in which Republican women have come to the forefront and have been in competitive and tough races, and have prevailed, and, as my colleague Anne Kornblut is writing today, didn’t do it by necessarily using the gender issue or the gender card.

And, so, I think it’s an important moment. The Republicans have struggled to try to put more women forward as candidates. And now they have some very, very high-profile candidates and, by November, some winners.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Plenty of races to follow for the rest of this year, more primaries all the way to November.

Dan Balz, Amy Walter, thank you both.