Tuesday’s Primaries and the Core Debate

Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona and Alaska pitted well funded and entrenched incumbent Republicans against upstart Tea Party-backed challengers. The Arizona incumbent survived, but the Alaska incumbent is left hoping to make up ground in absentee ballots.

First Arizona. Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, faced the fight of his political career against former congressman J.D. Hayworth. Unfortunately, Hayworth turned out to be a weak candidate and McCain’s $21 million media blitz was too much for him to overcome. In the end, the race wasn’t even close, with McCain outspending Hayworth 7-1 and winning nearly 2-1.

Hayworth, now a radio talk-show host, staffed his campaign with Tea Party activists and tried to run to the right of McCain. While in Congress, however, Hayworth had a penchant for earmarks and, after losing re-election in 2006, he participated as a pitchman in a video offering advice on how to get “free money grants” from the federal government. One could argue that earmarks are just part of the game and congressman should fight to get their constituents’ money directed to their own district, but after numerous silly projects have been highlighted over the years, voters are souring on the idea. And pitching “free money”? Not exactly the Tea Party’s core message.

McCain successfully countered Hayworth by running to the right himself. He has been remarkably frugal on earmarks through the years, offsetting any advantage Hayworth might have had on fiscal issues. The senator also moved right on immigration, going so far as to do a commercial along the border in which he called on the federal government to “complete the danged fence.” Of course, McCain’s lifetime American Conservative Union (ACU) rating of 82 is nothing to write home about, and now he’ll be in the Senate for another six years.

In Alaska, incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski trailed upstart Joe Miller by more than 1,600 votes as we went to press. Several thousand absentee ballots remain uncounted, but those are mostly military voters who may lean to Miller. The count may stretch into September.

The Murkowski family has dominated Alaska politics for decades. Lisa’s father, Frank, held one of Alaska’s Senate seats for three terms before winning the governor’s mansion. He then appointed his daughter to fill his seat. Joe Miller, the heavily outspent challenger, is a West Point grad, decorated Gulf War vet and a federal magistrate backed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. If he pulls off the upset, it would count as the second major knockout of the Murkowski clan for Palin, who beat Frank Murkowski in the GOP primary for governor in 2006.

To put it in generous terms, Murkowski is a moderate. Her lifetime ACU rating is a paltry 70 and 2009 only brought that lower. She half-heartedly opposed ObamaCare but refused to rule out a government-run system. She declared in a debate with Miller that the nation could suffer if the government funded only those things enumerated in the Constitution.

That sums up the debate: Are we a nation under the Rule of Law, or the rule of men? Is government limited by the Constitution, or can it, in the words of Rep. Pete Stark, “do most anything in this country.” We know that the debate is over in the Democrat party — to them, government can do anything a majority can pass. Republicans like Lisa Murkowski and John McCain all too often agree. This primary season and the upcoming election, however, provide an opportunity for constitutional conservatives to begin righting the ship.


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