From Murkowski to Castle, sore losers abound in Election 2010

So much for endorsing your opponent and bowing out gracefully. Many Republican candidates in Election 2010 are not backing the primary winner. Some are looking for ways to stay in the race.

Wilfredo Lee/AP
Surrounded by family members, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott (c.) gestures as he speaks with supporters Aug. 24 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. His GOP primary against Bill McCollum was so contentious that 25 percent of Florida Republicans aren't backing him.

One day, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel was calling Nathan Deal, her GOP primary challenger, a “corrupt relic of Washington.” The next day, after the votes had come in, she conceded defeat and endorsed him, saying “the best thing for our party is to rally around” ex-Congressman Deal.

Some losers have not been so gracious. In fact, in this wild 2010 election cycle, sore losers are everywhere. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida didn’t even wait to actually lose their primaries before they quit the GOP and ran for Senate as a Democrat and an independent, respectively.

Among those who did stay in the Republican arena: Bill McCollum has yet to endorse the man who beat him in the Aug. 24 Florida Republican primary for governor, Rick Scott. The Sarah Palin-backed Clint Didier has not endorsed Republican nominee Dino Rossi in the race against Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington. Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah, who failed even to make the primary ballot at the state GOP convention in May, still hasn’t endorsed Mike Lee, the winner of the June primary.

In Connecticut, the best GOP primary loser Rob Simmons could offer was a sort-of endorsement of former TV wrestling executive Linda McMahon. “In conceding the field to Mrs. McMahon I pledged my support for all Republican candidates this fall,” former Congressman Simmons wrote in an e-mail to supporters Aug. 13.

Then there’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska, who is mounting a write-in effort against Joe Miller, the Palin/"tea party" backed Republican who beat her in a late primary surge.

Another in the “don’t get mad get even” crowd may be Delaware’s Mike Castle, the moderate Republican congressman who lost in a Senate primary stunner to tea party darling Christine O’Donnell. Delaware insiders doubt Congressman Castle will pull the trigger on a write-in bid, but suffice it to say, he has not endorsed Ms. O’Donnell.

Does this withholding of love hurt the nominees? Not usually, says Jennifer Duffy, Senate-watcher at the Cook Political Report. True, it creates a picture of GOP disunity, particularly in this year of the great tea party establishment smackdown.

But “Republican voters are not going to stay home just because their guy didn’t win,” says Ms. Duffy.

Florida's scorched-earth primary

One race where the lack of party unity may be making a difference is the gubernatorial contest in Florida. State chief financial officer Alex Sink (D) is locked in a tight battle against Mr. Scott, a former health-care executive. Scott had defeated former longtime Congressman McCollum in a nasty primary battle, fueled by pro-McCollum party-establishment money and Scott’s willingness to spend $50 million from his personal fortune.

“It was a fractious primary,” and now the Republicans are “trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again,” says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, Tampa. “There’s a huge fissure between McCollum and Scott supporters. A lot of McCollum supporters are longtime Republicans who had put in a lot of time for the party – establishment types, people who really felt that McCollum got a bad deal.”

The latest Mason-Dixon poll of Florida voters, released Thursday, shows Ms. Sink leading Scott 47 percent to 40 percent. Scott is backed by only 75 percent of Republicans, a result of the bombardment of negative ads he faced in the primary over a Medicare scandal that unfolded on his watch. During his tenure as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the company engaged in Medicare fraud and ultimately paid a $1.7 billion fine. Scott said he was unaware that the fraud was taking place.

Write-in candidates

For Senator Murkowski, who is trying to keep her Senate seat as a write-in candidate, the odds are against her, but victory is not impossible to imagine. The Democratic nominee, Scott McAdams, is weak, and in red Alaska, the race could boil down to Murkowski versus Mr. Miller. She started with a $1 million war chest – an amount that could take her a fair distance in a state with cheap TV markets.

Castle faces a steeper uphill climb if he tries a write-in bid in blue Delaware. The Democratic nominee, Chris Coons, is a serious candidate; polls show him beating O’Donnell with a healthy double-digit lead. It’s unclear that he could take enough votes away from both Mr. Coons and O’Donnell to make a go of it.

These primary also-rans may be looking at the example of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (I), who lost the Democratic primary in 2006, then won in the general as an independent. But Senator Lieberman had several factors working in his favor: His name was on the ballot, so he did not face the additional challenges attached to mounting a write-in bid. His Republican opponent was weak; he ended up with only 10 percent of the vote. And he had a fundraising base independent of Connecticut. A prominent Jewish politician, Lieberman attracted donations from Jews around the country.

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