What voters really seem to want are new ideas

By Froma Harrop

Guess Mitch McConnell’s charm wasn’t enough. The Senate minority leader’s anointed man lost the Kentucky Republican Senate primary to Rand Paul, son of tea party toastmaster Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

The Tuesday races went well for Democrats, less well for Republicans and still less well for McConnell. The GOP leader, who confidently keeps telling us “what the American people want,” didn’t even know what fellow Republicans wanted in his own state.

A predicted Republican wave failed to materialize in late Democratic Rep. John Murtha’s district in southwestern Pennsylvania. This is one of those blue-collar districts that, according to much punditry, is ripe for Republican plunder in the November midterms. There, voters chose to replace Murtha with a former Murtha aide, Mark Critz. Furthermore, Critz won by a wide margin over Republican businessman Tim Burns. (So much for election eve polls showing the two candidates virtually tied.)

Americans of many political stripes were gratified by Rep. Joe Sestak’s knockout of Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary. Folks at the State Department, who’ve long suffered Specter’s famously bad manners during his visits to U.S. embassies, are positively giddy.

Party activists are of course delighted to rid themselves of the opportunistic Specter. The five-term senator became a Democrat as polls showed him trailing Rep. Pat Toomey in the state’s Republican primary race.

The one person not celebrating Sestak’s win is Toomey, who once headed the “fiscally conservative” Club for Growth. Sestak is the more formidable candidate. A former admiral who saw action in Afghanistan, he can remind patriotic voters that Americans have borne far heavier burdens than paying their taxes.

In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln failed to secure more than half the vote in a three-person primary race and so must face state Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a runoff. Angry at Lincoln’s cozy corporate ties, unions and liberals in Arkansas strongly backed Halter.

So what does it all mean? Is anti-incumbent fever running wild? There may be some of that. But more than new faces, the electorate is demanding new ideas.

Note that Rand Paul’s 11-term congressman father was his biggest draw as he campaigned in Kentucky — and for congressional term limits. One does not have to be a tea partier to appreciate the Pauls for their original thinking. Some of their ideas may be off the wall, but some of them are very much not. And they fearlessly speak against conventional wisdom and moneyed interests.

How refreshing to hear the younger Paul argue for ending farm subsidies. Another promise was to close the U.S. Department of Education and send the money to states to spend as they see fit.

Rand’s combo platter of proposals was not entirely appealing. And his tireless flattery of the tea party ruined many an appetite. The result was such loopy vows as requiring that every section of every new law explain which part of the Constitution lets Congress do that. If everyone agreed on what the Constitution says, there would be no need for a Supreme Court — which, by the way, the Constitution established (Article III).

I don’t understand all this fuss about incumbents. Some politicians serve for a long time because the voters think they’re doing a good job. Getting rid of one’s rep because Congress passed something you didn’t like makes sense only if the rep voted the wrong way.

Super Tuesday did wound the myth that incumbents are invincible. That notion has discouraged many fine people from running for office — thus turning the belief in the power of incumbency into a self-fulfilling prophecy. That accomplishment alone made for a superb Tuesday.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her e-mail address is fharrop@projo.com.