Yogi Berra, Emily’s List and Tuesday’s Primaries

If Yogi were still alive, he would be the first person to point out that the Fat Lady is singing. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, by scoring overwhelming victories in Tuesday’s primaries, have made clear to even the most skeptical observers that they will be the nominees of their parties in the 2016 Presidential Election.
That doesn’t mean that other candidates are likely to drop out immediately or that there aren’t any important questions yet to be settled.


In terms of the Fall election, there are two issues of paramount importance that come directly out of the nominating process beyond who the candidates are. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has a major decision to make. He has run an impressive campaign that has drawn lots of new voters into the process. He has raised significant amounts of money in a largely unprecedented manner. And most importantly, Sanders has made his issue, income inequality and a rigged financial and political system, central to the debate.
What do his supporters and all the energy they have brought to the process do next? The other day, Sanders argued that it was up to Clinton to show that she is worthy of their support. Even if there is some truth in that statement, it is ultimately an incredibly short-sighted perspective for him to take. At this point, Sanders has had his moment in the sun. Whether his movement has more than a transient life depends at least as much on him as on Clinton.
If he works hards for her election in November, as Clinton did for Obama in 2008, and urges his supporters to vote for her, he has a real opportunity to influence her agenda once in office. However, if he decides that the purity of his positions is more important than being involved in the ongoing political process, he will be a small footnote in American history.
It shouldn’t be a hard decision. The prospect of Donald Trump as president should make Sanders and his supporters enthusiastic backers of the former Secretary of State. It may take a little while to get to a comfort level with that position, but it’s hard to see an alternative that makes any sense at all.


The Republicans, staring in the face of a Trump nomination, have quite a different kind of dilemma. While this political season has vividly demonstrated that anything can happen, the party is looking at the very real possibility of Trump dragging down candidates running for other offices, most particularly in Senate and House races.

There have already been reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to figure out how to put distance between their campaigns and those of the presidential ticket. That won’t be easy to do since you can count on Democrats reminding voters constantly about Trump’s candidacy.


One of the biggest stories in Tuesday’s primaries was the major effort of Emily’s List to impact Senate nominating contests in Maryland and Pennsylvania. In its attempt to get more women into Congress, Emily’s List won in Pennsylvania and lost in Maryland, but the outcomes show how difficult it is to assign credit or blame for election results.
In the Maryland Senate Primary, Emily’s List spent $2.5 million in support of Congresswomen Donna Edwards’ attempt to win the nomination. She lost decisively to Congressman Chris Van Hollen but Emily’s List involvement was only one of many factors. Van Hollen had the support of most other elected officials in the state as well as a number of congressional leaders. He raised lots of money and ran a campaign that focused on his ability to get things done in Congress.
On the other hand, Edwards’ campaign was focused almost entirely on her identity as a black women hoping to succeed Barbara Mikulski and be the first African-American elected to the Senate from Maryland.
On its face, Edwards had a lot going for her in terms of the demographics of Maryland primary voters, but the results demonstrated that her effort to win on the basis of identity politics was unsuccessful. While she won her home county of Prince George’s by about 46,000 votes or almost two to one, he won his base in Montgomery County by 90,000 votes or four to one. Given that there have been more primary voters in Prince George’s than Montgomery in recent elections, that’s a stunning outcome.
Similarly, in Baltimore City, Van Hollen picked up nearly 40% of the vote, hardly the landslide that she needed to offset his advantage in other parts of the state. Moreover, her margin in the City was totally balanced out by the size of his victory in neighboring Baltimore County.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty, also a beneficiary of Emily’s List support, won a decisive victory over former Congressman and 2010 nominee Joe Sestak. By contrast to Maryland, however, almost all of the Democratic establishment backed McGinty, a candidate who has never won an election before this.

Sestak had really annoyed party leaders in 2010 by refusing to step aside when Republican Senator Arlen Spector decided to change parties rather than risk losing a primary fight against Pat Toomey.  Sestak stayed in the race and beat Spector but then lost to Toomey in the General Election.  The other complaint against Sestak, similar to comments made about Edwards, is that he was difficult to get along with and wasn’t a team player.
Are there lessons for Emily’s List? A lot of Marylanders were very unhappy with the organization’s support for Edwards over Van Hollen given his strong record on women’s issue and overall effectiveness as a member of the House. In their laudable effort to back women for higher office, Emily’s List seems to have used gender as their only criterion. Their financial support for Edwards certainly made her more competitive, but at the end of the day, Emily’s List wasted resources that could have been put into other races and harmed its brand in Maryland.
In Pennsylvania, its backing of McGinty helped tip the balance in a contest that was much closer and in which she had broad support from the start. Additionally, most observers see Van Hollen and McGinty as much stronger candidates for the fall General Election than either Edwards or Sestak would have been.