When Rep. Bill Pascrell won his member-versus-member primary on Tuesday night over Rep. Steven Rothman in New Jersey's 9th Congressional District, he became the second Democratic incumbent in a row to win such a race with backing from Bill Clinton. In April in Pennsylvania, Rep. Mark Critz took down Rep. Jason Altmire in their 12th District Democratic primary.
But if Clinton's endorsement was so powerful, former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez would be celebrating a Democratic primary win of his own in New Mexico's 1st District, and Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas would still be looking forward to his ninth term in Congress. In reality, Chavez finished a distant third in a field of three, and Reyes lost his renomination race to a youthful Democratic challenger.
Clinton's endorsement obviously isn't everything, but it's not nothing, either: Few Democrats can energize a crowd like he does, and his name remains a signal for low-information primary voters. Yet the biggest effect of Clinton's endorsements this cycle has been to create media hype about his own influence. That's not so unusual — media coverage is the biggest effect of most endorsements.
Pascrell's big victory sparked enthusiastic appraisals of Clinton's king-making abilities before Rothman had even conceded the race, especially because the 9th District supplied an easy comparison with President Obama, the current leader of the Democratic Party. Rothman was the only member of New Jersey's congressional delegation to support Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries, and the president returned the favor by backing Rothman this year.