On Running Against the Establishment
It was that oddest of political acts, a political party publicly beating up on one of its own.
In this case, Republican Party officials weren't simply content to endorse Tim D'Annunzio's opponent in an 8th District congressional primary runoff. No, they wanted to bloodied him so bad that there was no chance that he could win.
State Republican Party chair Tom Fetzer called D'Annunzio "unfit for any office at any level." A spokesman for the Republican National Congressional Committee in Washington has said publicly that he believes D'Annunzio's opponent, former Charlotte TV sportscaster Harold Johnson, will win the runoff.
What has D'Annunzio done to bring about all this party ire and angst?
He's gotten into vehement, public arguments at Republican Party functions. According to a judge, he's called the government the "Antichrist." He's acknowledged a troubled past that included arrests. He's held a "machine-gun social" as a fund-raiser.
But no matter how strange the Hoke County military contractor's behavior, party officials might not be helping their cause. They may be doing D'Annunzio a favor.
That's because 2010 could be shaping up as the year of the anti-establishment.
D'Annunzio certainly fits the bill.
Democrats will have their own establishment-verses-anti-establishment runoff in the U.S. Senate race.
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is no Tim D'Annunzio. She holds a statewide elected office and has been a mainstay of the state Democratic Party for a couple of decades.
But she's not the choice of the party establishment in Washington, which doesn't believe that she can beat incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr. The national Democratic Party establishment recruited and has been backing former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.
So far, that support hasn't meant a whole lot for Cunningham.
In the primary, Marshall received 36 percent of the vote, four percentage points short of the total needed to avoid a runoff. Cunningham took 27 percent of the vote.
The third-place finisher, Ken Lewis, endorsed Marshall. He played up Marshall's anti-establishment credentials during the announcement: "She did not back down from Washington insiders trying to exercise undue influence in our nominating process."
Despite the endorsement, recent polls have indicated that the Marshall and Cunningham runoff is a toss-up. One polls showed each with 36 percent of the support of likely runoff voters.
But a low-turnout runoff is a tricky thing, often determined by organizations that are good at recognizing where to concentrate their efforts and how to get supporters to the polls.
Under those circumstances, it might be a bit of a stretch to read too much into next month's results.
Still, losses by party establishment picks like Cunningham and Johnson would raise the questions, at least in this year: Shouldn't the party organizations leave well enough alone? Did they cause more damage than harm to their picks?
If, on the other hand, they should prevail, perhaps it's a sign that voters are pragmatic after all.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
More like this story