Insurgent US Republican voters in Kentucky routed their party’s establishment candidate and selected iconoclastic political outsider Rand Paul on Tuesday night, a clear show of anger at Washington ahead of November elections to decide control of the US Congress.
Similarly, Democrats in Pennsylvania appeared to have ended the political career of Sen. Arlen Specter, one of the state’s best known politicians who became a Democrat after Obama’s election in an effort to prolong his time in Congress.
Democrats also managed to hold onto the Pennsylvania congressional seat formerly held by deceased Rep. John Murtha with the victory of Mark Critz. The race was heavily watched and hyped as a predictor of voter mood in the lead-up to November’s elections.
Meanwhile, Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln was leading in polls for nomination to her third term at time of this writing, but was projected by wire services to be headed for a runoff against Bill Halter, the state’s more left-leaning lieutenant governor.
Libertarian-styled eye doctor and tea party darling Rand Paul, son of the popular Texas conservative Rep. Ron Paul, trounced Kentucky secretary of state Trey Grayson, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s handpicked candidate, in the party’s Senate primary. McConnell was quick to pledge the party’s full support for Paul, who will challenge Democrats for McConnell’s seat in November.
US media was quick to projected Paul’s victory as early results poured in from a set of key primaries. It was called a victory for the tea parties, clamoring for a more conservative federal government and greater resistance to the Obama administration.
Specter’s loss to former Navy man and two-term Congressman Joe Sestak was also called an affront to establishment politicians, many of whom face increased political resistance due to a widespread anti-incumbent sentiment prevalent among voters. Sestak will face former GOP Rep. Pat Toomey, who won the Republican nomination on Tuesday, as was widely predicted.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs had attempted to play down the importance of the primaries, which select each party’s candidate for November, saying Obama had followed those races “not that closely” despite helping both campaigns. Many in the mainstream press had played up the races, especially in Arkansas and Pennsylvania, as a real test of how influential President Obama and the tea parties really are. President Obama did not stump for Sen. Specter.
The GOP’s defeat in Pennsylvania spells trouble for the party, which has crowed over a series of recent polls that show their voters are more energized about the November battle for all 435 House seats, 36 of 100 Senate seats, and 37 of 50 governorships.
Recent national opinion polls have found the US public split on which party should control Congress, but just one in three respondents wants to send their lawmaker back to Washington — the worst climate for incumbents since 1994.
Paul — whose father, Republican Representative Ron Paul, ran for president in 2008 — has openly capitalized on disaffection with Washington, repeatedly urging voters to “send some different Republicans” to the capital.
In Arkansas, Lincoln enjoyed establishment support, an edge in polls, and a vast money advantage over Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, whom the party’s labor union allies support. Lincoln had hitched her political fortunes in part to a sweeping bill to reform the rules on Wall Street, pushing for tight curbs on trades in derivatives markets, which are blamed for fueling the 2008 global economic meltdown.