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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Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories