US primary elections draw battle lines between insiders and outsiders

Republican voters pick a dark-horse Tea Party candidate to run for the Senate in Nevada, while two f

Overnight in the US, ballots were counted and and races called in ten primary elections, with a contentious run-off election also held. After a day that included the largest set of primary elections held this year, ballots are now finalised in several key elections that will take place on 2 November this year.

The analysts are calling the elections a sea change for the Republican Party, after voters chose female candidates in several high-profile states.

But behind this headline is the prospect of an insider-versus-outsider showdown in government, and the anti-incumbent rumblings that are bound to surface in the run-up to the November general elections.

A conservative, Tea Party candidate scored a major upset against the establishment Republican candidate in Nevada. And, in California, two former CEOs won in their respective Republican primaries and will face off against Democratic career politicians for statewide office.

Voter discontent with incumbents, "politics as usual" and the growing national deficit are having an impact on sitting politicians, with some even getting shown the exit by voters. The primary election season and the November midterm elections will decide the agenda of the Democratic Party-controlled Congress, and President Barack Obama, who has been perceived as not doing enough but spending too much.

Here are the results from the races to watch:

Nevada

Sharron Angle, a former legislator and schoolteacher, shot to political stardom yesterday, defeating the GOP-endorsed candidate for US senator in the Nevada Republican primary. Angle received a major boost after getting financial support and an endorsement from the Tea Party Express, a national group devoted to supporting Tea Party candidates.

The Republican Party had backed Sue Lowden in the primary race, but she stumbled after making a gaffe about going back to the days of bartering for health care by offering the doctor chickens. Despite winning the nomination, Angle will face an uphill battle against an established Democratic incumbent. She has made several provocative stands, such as ending the social security programme for younger people and closing the department of education.

Angle will go head-to-head in November with the Democrat and Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who won his nomination race. Reid has had a target on his back and been losing in polls against Republican candidates. But with the support of the powerful casino industry, CNN reports, Reid is well on his way to raising $25m.

Angle, on the other hand, ran her primary campaign from her own house. A win in November would be a true Cinderella story for the Tea Party candidate.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln (Dem) survived attack from the labour unions in a come-from-behind victory over the challenger Lt Gov Bill Halter. An endorsement from the former president -- and former governor of Arkansas -- Bill Clinton helped to salvage Lincoln's seat. The win also prevented her from becoming the third major incumbent to feel the wrath of voters and be dislodged from office during the primaries.

Lincoln had been forced into a run-off election with Halter which took place on Tuesday. She now admits she and her party misunderstood the spirit of voter discontent. "I would say that we may have underestimated the anti-incumbent mood," she said.

Lincoln now faces a tough battle with the Republican John Boozman until the November elections, in a usually conservative state, during a rough time for politicos in power.

California

In a high-profile contest among Republicans to occupy the seat of the departing governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former eBay CEO Meg Whitman defeated the former Silicon Valley businessman Steve Poizner.

The governor's race now shifts to a fight between business acumen and experience in government. Whitman will do battle with the Democrat Jerry Brown, who held the governor's office twice in the 1970s. Given the state of California's budget crisis, and the anti-insider mood of the electorate, independent voters may opt for Whitman in November. Whitman is so far outside the political establishment that she has been accused of not voting in elections for two decades.

Following this trend of "inside-versus-outside", another CEO will go up against a career politico in the California race for senator. The 28-year Democratic Party veteran Barbara Boxer, who is feeling the anti-incumbent heat, will square off against the former Hewlett-Packard chief and Republican Carly Fiorina after both won their nomination races on Tuesday.

South Carolina

State Representative Nikki Haley overcame a scandalous attempt to derail her campaign to gain the Republican nod to run for South Carolina governor. Haley, however, will have to face off against Representative Gresham Barrett in a 22 June run-off, as no one in the race earned a 50 per cent majority.

Barrett and Haley are seeking to replace the scandal-ridden Republican governor Mark Sanford, who was caught last year having an affair with an Argentinian woman, and who created a new euphemism with the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail".

Haley herself faced allegations of infidelity in the last two weeks of campaigning, in a scandal that has shades of the whisper campaign that defeated John McCain during the 2000 Republican presidential primary in South Carolina. Haley charged that rival Republican campaigns were behind the allegations levelled against her this year. During the run-up to Tuesday's primary, one of the men who allegedly took part in the affair released phone logs, and another one even did a lie-detector test to prove his claims.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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