Where do Tuesday's Primary Election Winners Go from Here?
The fall elections are just that - in the fall... And that's a long time on the political calendar, so last night's elections don't necessarily predict any November contests. They are, though, more data points to consider as we gauge voters' moods right now - and the course that some of the parties' core voters want to chart.
First, we saw a big upset in Pennsylvania as Rep. Joe Sestak beat long-time senator but newly-established Democrat Arlen Specter. In this year when approval of Congress is running only in the teens, Sestak's portrayal of Specter's party switch as a self-interested move, and of himself as the true Democrat, apparently found resonance with the Democratic base.
By the numbers, Specter had hoped to run up big margins in Philadelphia, where party organizing and the backing of the governor and other Democratic officials could work to his strong advantage. But while Specter won Philly with a comfortable margin, with 64 percent, the turnout just wasn't high enough to turn that into a sizeable vote margin. Specter took a 46,000 vote lead away from the city - not enough to overcome Sestak's performance elsewhere in the state. (With some votes still being counted as of this writing.)
Meanwhile, Sestak performed well or held his own in key Democratic areas all over the state. He did well in the Philadelphia suburbs, as well as around Pittsburgh. He held his own in Scranton and won in the county around Allentown.
It was the finale to a dramatic late surge in this race. Specter commanded a more than 20-point lead in a Quinnipiac poll not long ago, had the backing of President Obama and leading Democratic endorsements, and some questioned why Sestak was even running. But Sestak closed the gap -- helped, it appears, by that tough ad linking Specter to his former allies on the GOP side.
Also on the Democratic side, Arkansas incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln survives to fight another day - but there's also cause for concern for her in the results. Lincoln and her challenger, Lt. Gov Bill Halter, are headed to a runoff in June to decide the Democratic nomination, after neither got the 50 percent needed to secure it.
Lincoln wasn't able to secure a majority of Democrats, and it means another three weeks of Democrats battling with each other (instead of their GOP rival, Rep. John Boozman). And Lincoln already had her work cut out for her, running as she is in this state that became more Republican from 2004 to 2008. This primary emphasizes that the Democrats - whoever the nominee - have some work to do to close ranks here before the fall. Lincoln's task is to find a balance, centrist enough to lure independents and moderates in the fall, but appealing to the Democratic base which is, at this point, not yet solidly behind her.
And in Kentucky, on the GOP side, it was a big win for Tea Party activists. They nominated one of their own, Rand Paul, easily beating back a candidate in Trey Grayson who was picked and backed by Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Paul, an ophthalmologist, is the son of Rep. Ron Paul and is a political newcomer.
This was a convincing statewide win. Paul ran well in most areas; he was very strong in vote-rich Louisville (61 percent), did well in Lexington (64 percent) as votes were still coming in, and performed well in other big areas, which may suggest he doesn't have far to go in solidifying the Republican base going forward. The next task will be to make sure he can draw well among moderates and independents come the fall.
Coming off Utah Tea Party activists' defeat of incumbent Bob Bennett at the GOP convention there, this is another win in the Tea Party's attempt to influence the course and policies of the GOP, and the first one coming in primary. Watch, going forward, the extent to which Rand Paul draws national attention even as he campaigns in Kentucky.
Finally, but importantly, a much-watched House contest in Pennsylvania pitted a Democrat versus a Republican amid all these other primary battles. This race was called a bellwether by some - Pennsylvania's 12th, formerly held by the late Rep. Jack Murtha, is a marginal district that Murtha had won as a Democratic incumbent but which voted narrowly for John McCain, too. Both parties saw an opportunity here and put a lot of money in. Last night the Democrat, Mark Critz, won, in this district that's hard-hit economically and can be culturally conservative. It's bound to be seen as a blueprint of sorts for how the Democrats might hold similar seats elsewhere -- in a year that, both based on current assessments and historical trends, looks to be tough in a lot of districts for the party in power. At least as of now.
Roundup: All Winners and Losers
Specter Falls in Pa. Dem Primary to Joe Sestak
Rand Paul Wins Kentucky GOP Primary
Blanche Lincoln, Bill Halter Headed for Run-Off
Dem Wins Special Election for Murtha's Seat
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