It's Tuesday June 8, 2010. Primary Day in New Jersey. As we've learned from various media reports, there are many more candidates than usual throwing their hats in the ring to challenge apparently entrenched incumbents.
Around the country - if the pundits are to be believed - there is a sense of frustration, outrage, and activism that puts the old guard of both parties at risk. Look at Pennsylvania, where party-switcher Arlen Specter was knocked out by upstart (well, ok, he's a Congressman, not exactly and outsider) Joe Sestak. And there's Kentucky where libertarian and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul knocked off Mitch McConnell's favored son. And today we'll see if Blanche Lincoln, Democratic incumbent in Arkansas gets run over by the "outsider" express (actually the liberal express, which seems a bit odd in Arkansas.)
There is no question there is a sense of unease around the country. Numerous polls have picked it up and many pundits are trying to get a handle on what it means. In New Jersey last February (a lifetime ago in politics) The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll looked at support for the Tea Party movement. (see our releases here and here). What did we find? First, across all NJ voters, there was limited support for the Tea Party, with only 27% expressing a "favorable" opinion, while another 44% had no opinion. Not exactly a rousing call to arms at the time, after a year of rallies, debates, and media attention. New Jersey would not seem a hospitable state for Tea Partying.
But underneath that we also found that HALF of Republicans had a favorable impression, more than enough to put fear into non-Tea-Party establishment Republicans. And maybe more interestingly, we found that Tea Party supporters were MORE likely to also say they support the two party system, rather than seeking a third party to run against Republicans and Democrats. And Tea Partiers were really angry - about two-thirds said that Democrats made them angry (compared to 32% of other voters) and even one-third said Republicans made them angry (compared to 50% of non-Tea-Party voters).
So this plays out today in the New Jersey Congressional primaries. Politickernj.com reports that Tea Party challengers to Republican establishment candidates have not raised large amounts of money. Moreover, in one high profile case (Rep. Leonard Lance's challengers in the 7th district) the presence of multiple insurgent candidates claiming the Tea Party mantle will make it harder to overcome the incumbent's natural advantages.
The wild card though is that voters don't pay much attention to primaries, as witness the latest FDU poll. But you can be sure the activists do! So the key question is (as always) about turnout. If Tea Party Republicans are more likely to turn out and to be in slash and burn anti-establishment mode, there could be some surprises tonight in New Jersey. But given the huge imbalance in campaign funds - with all of the incumbents and establishment candidates well funded, and all of the challenges far less so - even the fury of Tea Party supporters may not be enough to overcome an entrenched establishment in New Jersey.