Over at TNR, where I cross-post sometimes, commenter jamiller 34 asked whether Crist/Rubio fits. Good question! Crist/Rubio appeared, at first, to be a classic example of how party elites makes choices and then get rank-and-file voters to ratify their decision in a primary. In Florida, Crist was a popular GOP governor, but when mainstream conservatives (the largest portion of the party) chose to support Rubio for the Senate seat, Republican voters, as registered in early polling, flipped as well. But then Crist, instead of just marching into defeat, decided to act within the electoral rules of Florida and run on an independent line. In one sense, that seems to be a similar case of a primary loser refusing to accept the results. In another sense, however, Crist -- like Lieberman in 2006 -- wound up as something closer to the de facto candidate of the other party. That's definitely different than what happened in NY-23 and Colorado, and I think mostly different than what happened in Alaska.
Another point: via email, parties scholar Richard Skinner digs up four somewhat similar cases forty years ago:
(1) In 1969, after GOP mayoral primary to , and the conservative won the Democratic nomination, many moderate and liberal Democrats backed Lindsay on the Liberal line. Lindsay won easily.Can we conclude much from any of this? Remember, the real question here is whether there's something systematic that makes these sorts of challenges much more viable now than they have been, or whether they're just flukes that crop up once in a while. I don't have any answers, other than to repeat that it's worth keeping an eye on -- because, if there is something going on here, it's potentially very important. lost the
(2) In 1970, after losing the Democratic primary to Joseph Duffey, Senator Thomas Dodd ran for re-election as an independent. Republican Lowell Weicker won.
(3) In the three-way Senate race in New York between Republican appointee , Democrat Richard Ottinger, and Conservative James Buckley, Goodell fell out of contention early. Buckley became the de facto GOP nominee in much of the state, was endorsed by several Republican politicians, and was clearly (though not openly) backed by the Nixon Administration. Even Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who had appointed Goodell, did little for him, and his campaign allegedly printed "Rockefeller-Buckley" buttons. Buckley won.
(4) Harry Byrd Jr., facing an increasingly liberal Democratic primary electorate, ran for re-election as an Independent. He beat a liberal Democrat and an obscure Republican. Many Republicans in the state wanted to not endorse a candidate (and have Byrd Jr. be their de facto nominee), but Gov. Linwood Holton insisted on running one. (Holton was a rather liberal Republican who mostly endorsed Democrats later in life; Tim Kaine is his son-in-law). Byrd Jr. continued his father's practice of caucusing with the Democrats but voting with Republicans on virtually everything.