Primary elections sometimes wind up taking on a significance that’s larger than the actual impact on legislative votes would be. For example, Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak are likely to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate in very similar ways, and the race is more about activists proving a point to the party establishment than about forward-looking legislation. But Boris Shor points out that the recent West Virginia primary in which Mike Oliviero knocked off incumbent Rep Alan Mollohan isn’t like that. According to Shor’s model, if Oliviero wins the general election he’ll be by far the most conservative Democrat in Congress:
Exactly how conservative is he? Our common space score for him is 0.25, which puts him into the 96th percentile of his party for conservatism in his state for the last decade or so. He’s about as conservative as the average WV state Republican, and more conservative than many of them. […]
For comparison, if Oliverio were to remain ideologically consistent (something I consider very likely for all “graduating” state legislators), he’d be more conservative than the sole Republican in the state delegation to Congress, Shelley Capito. He’d be more conservative than a bunch of other Republicans, too. He’d be far more conservative than the most conservative Democrat in Congress, Idaho’s Walt Minnick, who voted against health care reform, the stimulus, and the Waxman-Markey environment bill.
My guess is that this is going to reveal a shortcoming in Shor’s methodology. Oliverio may well prove to assemble a more conservative voting record than Minnick’s, but I seriously doubt he’ll vote more conservatively than Capito. Either that or he’ll switch parties. There are very strong dynamics of partisanship that I think should prevent the re-emergence of big-time cross-party voting.