Yes, it was notable that in the Delaware senatorial contest insurgent Palin-backed Teapartista Christine O’Donnell beat out the establishment GOP candidate Mike Castle. O’Donnell, a former anti-pornography and anti-masturbation activist, has some problematic and downright bizarre baggage. But now she’s been launched onto the national stage and stands to make a mint in donations after Bush strategist Karl Rove denounced her as nutty and unqualified on Fox News, providing a foretaste of intra-party love not seen since the days of, oh, Obama-Clinton… And speaking of Clinton… in NY state, the pro-pornography insurgent Republican Carl Paladino also won against establishment pick Rick Lazio (despite his own particular baggage). (Remember when Lazio run against Hillary Clinton and lost voter sympathy by standing too close to her in a debate? Ah, 2000, a more innocent time.) Ross Douthat has an interesting take on the lessons of the GOP results here.
But to me the more significant bottom line of last night’s votes was that a train of urban education reform which had lately been picking up momentum and money , has hit something of a wall. Here in DC, reformist mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary to a challenger, Vincent Gray, in large part because of mounting opposition to the reforms led by his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee. Fenty was a got things done but he rubbed a lot of locals the wrong way. Rhee, who was head-to-toe overhauling a dramatically under-performing school system, sparked an enormous backlash from the teacher’s union (mass firings of teachers didn’t help her popularity).
Unlcear if Rhee’s reform effort is now over.
(Ben Smith notes that other education reformers lost in NYC races.)
Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan was asked about Rhee yesterday:
Q Do you think that Michelle Rhee can survive a Fenty loss today?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Well, I have no idea what’s going to happen. Obviously you guys would know much better than I. What I do know is that D.C. has made tremendous progress educationally over the past three years. D.C. was a school system that was, frankly, historically a disgrace to the country, and it was amazing to me that the nation’s capital school system was allowed to languish for so long and students were allowed to suffer for so long. And by any measure, by every measure, D.C. has made real and substantive progress.
Obviously we invested $75 million with them with Race to the Top because of what — because of the progress we’re seeing. And regardless what happens today — again, you guys know much better than me — that progress has to continue. D.C. has come a long way, has a heck of a long way to go. But there’s no reason to go for — not just for the public school system but for the city, D.C. should aim to have the best urban education system in the nation. That should be its aspiration.