Specter Loses Seat, Rand Paul Wins Big
WASHINGTON — Voters increasingly wary of government turned two "establishment" politicians out of office in primary elections Tuesday, including five-term Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
Elections in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky became the latest test of the nation's sour mood, as lingering high unemployment and President Obama's ambitious agenda allowed a new crop of candidates to claim the mantle of change.
"We've come to take our government back," Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who courted the nation's anti-tax "Tea Party" movement, said after defeating party-backed Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the GOP Senate primary. "We're unhappy and we want things done differently."
All three states featured veteran officeholders with party support battling insurgents campaigning against the status quo — a formula political experts say is sure to carry over into the fall election to decide control of Congress.
"Distrust of all things Washington seems to be the theme," said Michael Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation, noting a Pew Research Center survey last month that found 22% of Americans trust the government. "It's coming from both the right and the left."
Few races represented the political wave better than Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate primary, in which Specter was defeated by Rep. Joe Sestak. Specter switched to the Democratic Party in 2009 to avoid a GOP primary.
In Arkansas, second-term Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln was fending off a challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, despite support from Obama and former president Bill Clinton.
Halter attacked Lincoln for her moderate positions, including a decision to oppose Obama's government-run insurance program as part of the health care debate.
The high-profile primaries came five and a half months before the November general election, which political observers such as Jennifer Duffy with the non-partisan Cook Political Report predicted will result in large losses for the Democrats.
The president's party has lost seats in Congress in 10 of the past 12 midterm elections.
"The bigger message is that if you're in Washington and your name starts with 'senator' or 'congressman,' voters view you as part of the problem," Duffy said, "regardless of party."