That's the big question today among the punditocracy. A Lincoln loss today would mean three incumbent Senators--Bennett and Specter being the other two--to lose. That hasn't happened since 1980. But it's not just what happens in November, it's what happens in government after November that really matters.
In evaluating this, Ezra posts about incumbency:
Specter managed to effectively lose -- or in the case of the Republican primary, seem certain to lose -- both the Democratic and the Republican primaries because he seemed more loyal to himself than he was to either party. Lincoln is a conservative Democrat facing likely defeat at the hands of a somewhat more populist, and at least implicitly more party-loyal, challenger.
And in case you wanted to say that the American people clearly support populist insurgencies this year, consider that the tea parties are plummeting in popularity. Whatever populist impulse they represented has managed to alienate a majority of the population.
Part of the narrative that's emerged is that these primaries show an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, year. That's right, but it's mixed, incoherently, with pro-party -- which is to say, pro-Washington establishment -- results. The different bases are eliminating politicians who've been insufficiently dedicated to holding their party's line. The result will be much more significant than merely the election of three new senators. Rather, surviving senators will upgrade the threat an unhappy base poses to their reelection and trim their independence accordingly. The moderates and compromisers who are left will stop acting like moderates and compromisers. This election looks, if nothing else, like it's going to be a big step forward in bringing strong party discipline to the Senate.
I don't think Ezra's entirely right. In the first instance, it's probably not the teabaggers' populism that's making them less popular--it's the crazy; the racism, birtherism, and the out-an-out hate that tends to predominate. The teabaggers don't have a monopoly on populism--anger at insurance company CEOs, at Wall Street, and at Big Oil are damned near universal. In Lincoln's case, her corporatism is a key factor working against her. It's her corporatism that in large part has led her to betray her Democratic roots--it's supposed to be the party of the common good, and Lincoln has abandoned that ethos time and time again.
In that vein, the Artur Davis loss is instructive, probably more so than either Bennett or Specter. Bennett's loss came at state convention, where a relative few extremely motivated activists could sway the outcome. He'd probably have survived an actual primary with Utah Republicans. In the case of Specter, his party switch was just too cynical and too selfish for Pennsylvania Dems to swallow. Davis, however, like Lincoln worked too hard to actually distance himself from key Democratic constituencies. He--like Lincoln--betrayed his actual base.
And, again, this is where I think Ezra is off. First, can anyone really argue that there isn't strong party discipline among the Republicans? Could they really get more unified in obstruction?
On the Dem side, he's equating pro-party with pro-Washington establishment. Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter are the Washington establishment--look at all the primary support they've received, from Obama to Bill Clinton. It's not party loyalty to the Dem establishment in Washington--and to Harry Reid's agenda--that the base is looking for. It's loyalty to us--the huge big tent of Democrats. Women who are pissed at hell that Stupak ultimately won in getting restrictive abortion language into health insurance reform; unions who have been screwed again, watching EFCA pushed aside; Latinos whose demands for comprehensive immigration reform keep getting backburnered; African Americans who have to hear Republican Senate candidates question the Civil Rights Act; environmentalists who got slapped down for opposing a Dem president's misguided expansion of off-shore drilling; millions of unemployed who are losing hope that there will ever be a job for them along with losing their benefits.
We don't want stricter adherence to the agenda of the pro-party establishment in Washington. We want our representatives to fight harder for us. This is our chance to fight for that--that's what primaries are for. If nothing else comes out of this election, the restoration of the primary as a good, proper, and normal tool for democracy would be a win.