Nine states held primaries on Tuesday, the last day of primary battles before the November elections. Among the results, Rhode Island Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee fended off a challenge from Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey and Minnesota state legislator Keith Ellison won the Democratic Congressional nomination in the state’s fifth district putting him on a path to become the first Muslim member of Congress. We discuss some of the races with John Nichols of The Nation. [includes rush transcript]
Nine states held primaries on Tuesday, the last day of primary battles before the November elections. Voters went to the polls to decide party nominees for Senate, House of Representatives and governor’s offices.
The most closely-watched contest was in Rhode Island, where Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee fended off a challenge from Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey. The race was seen as crucial to Republican hopes of retaining Senate control in November.
In New York, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton won a renomination over anti-war challenger Jonathan Tasini. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer won the Democratic nomination for governor.
In Minnesota’s fifth district, Keith Ellison, a state legislator, won the Democratic Congressional nomination defeating three rivals to put him on a path to become the first Muslim member of Congress.
In Maryland, results were coming in slowly after election problems early in the day. Some polls opened late, and voters were turned away at others. The latest results put Democratic Congressmember Ben Cardin ahead of rival Kweisi Mfume in the battle to replace retiring Senator Paul Sarbanes. The winner will face Republican nominee Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele in November. In the state’s 4th Congressional District, veteran activist Donna Edwards is closely trailing incumbent Albert Wynn in her Democratic primary challenge.
Parties also picked candidates in Arizona, Delaware New Hampshire and Wisconsin and Washington DC.
AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols joins us on the phone now from Madison, Wisconsin, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, associate editor of the Capital Times. Welcome to Democracy Now!, John.
JOHN NICHOLS: It’s great to be with you, Amy, and it was great to have you at Bob Fest over the weekend.
AMY GOODMAN: It was very interesting to be in Baraboo and also in Milwaukee. John, talk about the primary results.
JOHN NICHOLS: There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, and you highlighted some of the key races. I think people really need to pay a lot of attention to Keith Ellison’s win up in Minnesota. They threw just about everything at him. He was attacked both personally and politically in this campaign. And yet, as a relatively unknown contender going into the race, he defeated the former Democratic Party chairman and a former candidate for state attorney general who had a lot of money and a lot of support.
Ellison won by doing something that Democrats around the country, progressive Democrats, ought to pay attention to and be conscious of. He targeted the people who don’t vote, and he targeted them with a message. He ran as an explicitly antiwar candidate. Every Democratic house in the district got a leaflet, which was headlined, “Bring the troops home now!” And he targeted a lot of his campaign to Somali immigrants, to gays and lesbians, to just non-traditional voters, peace activists especially. It’s an exciting win, and he’s going to go to Congress. He will win in November. He’s going to go to Congress as a very aggressive and very creative progressive voice. I’d also note that in that Fourth District race in Maryland, as of the last returns I see, Donna Edwards has pulled ahead by perhaps a couple hundred votes. If Donna Edwards beats Al Wynn in that primary, it will certainly not get the national attention that the Lamont-Lieberman race got. But make no mistake, Al Wynn is the Joe Lieberman of Maryland, and Donna Edwards’s challenge to him is a very exciting one. She’s done far better than I think almost anyone expected. Even if she doesn’t win in the final results, she’s going to be set up for a race two years from now, and another very exciting young progressive African American ran on an antiwar platform, did very well.
Finally, I’d note the win in New York City in a Brooklyn district, the district once held by Shirley Chisholm. Yvette Clarke, a City Council member up there, ran, not expected to win. Most people pegged a couple of other candidates as being the front runners. She came from behind with a very exciting campaign, in which she highlighted the importance of having African American women in Congress and also her very strong antiwar stance. So, it certainly wasn’t a night of sweeps for antiwar candidates, but a lot of young progressive antiwar contenders won or look to be doing very well in some tough races.
AMY GOODMAN: I interviewed Congressmember Murtha when he came up to New York to endorse Yvette Clarke. John Nichols, as you look at the race in New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton, of course, was expected to win, but the significance of Jonathan Tasini’s antiwar insurgent campaign against her?
JOHN NICHOLS: There’s a lot of significance in this. You know, Jonathan Tasini got in this race with a zero name recognition, aside from some of us who follow the labor movement. He ran a campaign in which he was outspent. You know, I don’t even know if we’ll get the final percentages, but it’s going to be in the range of a hundred to one or something more than that. Didn’t get much publicity, was blocked out of the debate. And yet, at the end of the day, he got almost the exact same percentage as Eliot Spitzer’s challenger in the gubernatorial primary, that challenger, a county executive from a big county in the state, got front-page attention in the papers, got into high-profile debates and things of that nature.
So, I think two things come out. One, it matters when antiwar candidates mount uphill races, because they are able at the end of the day to force issues into play. And there’s no question Tasini did make the war a much more central issue in New York and, I think, caused Clinton to move to more moderate stances, or at least that was part of the fabric of developments that caused that. Two, people will vote for them. I mean, the fact of the matter is that Jonathan Tasini got 17% of the vote, certainly not a big win, but a credible finish in a race like this and a “send them a message” vote, which I don’t think people ought to underestimate. Again, give Clinton her victory. It was a huge victory, big win. But Tasini didn’t waste his time the last few months.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Chafee was not exactly a favorite of the Republican Party in Rhode Island.
JOHN NICHOLS: Look, I’m delighted Lincoln Chafee won. He may not be the most progressive member of the Senate. But remember what this guy has done over the last five years. He voted against the Bush tax cut. He voted against going to war in Iraq. He has been a steady critic of the Bush administration on a host of civil liberties issues. Now, he won that primary, because the White House and National Republicans felt that only an antiwar, relatively progressive Republican could win in Rhode Island. I’m still not sure Chafee’s going to win the seat in November, but I do think that there’s a delicious irony in the fact that George Bush had to order the National Republican Party to campaign very aggressively on behalf of a guy who announced in November 2004 that he didn’t vote for Bush for president.
AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, I want to thank you for being with us, joining us from Madison, the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, also contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times, an associate editor at the Madison Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin.