WASHINGTON (AP) - Party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter fell to a
younger and far less experienced rival in the Pennsylvania
Democratic primary, and political novice Rand Paul rode support
from tea party activists to a Republican rout in Kentucky on
Tuesday, the latest jolts to the political establishment in a
tumultuous midterm election season.
In another race with national significance, Democrat Mark Critz
won a special House election to fill out the term of the late
Democratic Rep. John Murtha in southwestern Pennsylvania. The two
political parties spent roughly $1 million apiece hoping to sway
the outcome there, and highlighted the contest as a possible
bellwether for the fall when all 435 House seats will be on the
On the busiest night of the primary season to date, Arkansas
Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a potentially
debilitating June runoff election against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in
her bid for nomination to a third term. Rep. John Boozman won the
Republican line on the ballot outright.
Taken together, the evening's results were indisputably unkind
to the political establishments of both parties - with more
contested primaries yet to come, particularly among Republicans.
But any attempt to read into the results a probable trend for
the fall campaign was hazardous - particularly given Critz's
victory over Republican Tim Burns to succeed Democrat Murtha in
Specter, seeking his sixth term and first as a Democrat, fell to
two-term Rep. Joe Sestak, who spent three decades in the Navy
before entering politics. Sestak was winning 54 percent of the vote
to 46 percent for Specter. He told cheering supporters his triumph
marked a "win for the people over the establishment, over the
status quo, even over Washington, D.C."
Sestak's campaign calling card was a television commercial that
showed former President George W. Bush saying he could count on
Specter, then a Republican, and then had Specter saying he had
switched parties so he could win re-election. Once unleashed, it
coincided with a steady decline in Specter's early lead in the
polls and signaled the end of the political line for the most
durable politician of his generation in Pennsylvania.
Former Rep. Pat Toomey won the Republican nomination and will
run against Sestak in the fall in what is likely to be one of the
marquee races in the battle for control of the Senate.
Among Republicans, Paul's victory over Secretary of State Trey
Grayson was a rebuke to the GOP Senate leader, Mitch McConnell.
McConnell recruited Grayson to the race after pushing the
incumbent, Sen. Jim Bunning, into retirement out of concern that he
would lose the seat to the Democrats.
Kentucky marked the third time that tea party activists, a
collection of disparate groups without a central political
structure, have placed their stamp on Republican races.
Their votes at a Utah Republican convention helped deny a spot
on the ballot to Sen. Bob Bennett, a conservative judged as not
sufficiently so. And their backing helped propel one-time longshot
Republican Marco Rubio to a lead in the pre-primary polls in
Florida's Senate race, prompting Gov. Charlie Crist to quit the
party and run as an independent.
Before Specter's defeat, West Virginia Democratic Rep. Alan
Mollohan was the only incumbent in his party to lose a primary.
Paul celebrated his triumph in an appearance before supporters.
"I have a message, a message from the tea party, a message that
is loud and clear and does not mince words: We have come to take
our government back," he said, a 47-year-old eye surgeon making
his first run for office.
He opponent in the fall will be Jack Conway, the Kentucky
attorney general, winner over Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo in the
But the same energy that helped Paul to victory presented
problems to be handled carefully by the Republicans in the run-up
to November, when control of both houses of Congress will be at
Paul has said he might not support his fellow Kentuckian,
McConnell, for a new term as party leader. And no sooner had
Tuesday's results been posted than Richard Viguerie, a longtime
conservative warrior, suggested McConnell step aside.
The far-flung races took place a little less than five months
before the midterm elections. President Barack Obama backed
incumbents in his party's races, but despite the stakes for his
legislative agenda the White House insisted he was not following
the results very closely.
High unemployment, an economy just now emerging from the worst
recession in generations and Congress' decision to bail out Wall
Street giants in 2008 all added to voters' unease, polls said. In a
survey released shortly before the polls closed, ABC said voter
expectations for the economy had turned optimistic for the first
time in six years. At that, only 33 percent of those polled said so
in the network's polling, compared with 29 percent saying the
In Oregon, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden avoided the deluge
afflicting other incumbents and won nomination to a third full
term. Republican Jim Huffman won the GOP primary.
In Kentucky, Paul had 59 percent of the vote to 35 percent for
Paul countered Grayson's establishment support with endorsements
- and the political energy that flowed along with them - from tea
party activists, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint
of South Carolina, a conservative eager to push his party rightward
in advance of the broader fall campaign.
On his website, Paul, 47 and an ophthalmologist, calls himself a
"career doctor, not a politician." He favors a balanced budget
and paying off the national debt over time, but the website
mentions no specifics.
He opposes all federal bailouts of private industry and
government subsidies for alternative energy sources such as solar
and wind power.
He has called Washington lobbyists a "distinctly criminal
class" and favors banning lobbying and campaign contributions by
anyone holding a federal contract exceeding $1 million.
Eager to avoid long-term fallout from a bruising primary, GOP
leaders in Kentucky set a unity breakfast for Saturday.
The far-flung primaries took place a little less than five
months before midterm elections in which Republicans will challenge
Democrats for control of both houses of Congress. President Barack
Obama backed incumbents in his party's races, but despite the
stakes for his legislative agenda the White House insisted he was
not following the results very closely.
There were gubernatorial races in Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Attorney General Tom Corbett won the Republican nomination in
Pennsylvania with ease. Dan Onorato led three rivals for the
In Oregon, former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber won the
nomination in a comeback bid.
In Arkansas, the Democratic Senate race took on trappings of a
clash of outside interests. Records on file with the Federal
Election Commission showed outside groups had spent nearly $10
million to sway the outcome.
Lincoln positioned herself as an independent-minded Democrat not
beholden to her party. Halter's campaign was backed by labor unions
unhappy with Lincoln's opposition to a government option under
health care, legislation making it easier for unions to organize
and trade legislation. Little Rock businessman D.C. Morrison also
As if primaries weren't enough, both parties had other concerns.
Rep. Mark Souder, a conservative Republican from Indiana,
abruptly announced he would resign on Friday, admitting he had had
an affair with a woman on his congressional payroll.
And Democrat Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney
general running for the Senate, disputed a newspaper report that he
lied about having served in Vietnam.