Arlen Specter's Loss Goes Beyond Anti-Incumbent Mood

Some thoughts on the morning after Tuesday's big primaries:

The Specter Difference

AP
Yes, incumbents are in danger from coast to coast. Yes. Arlen Specter's effort to save his 30-year Senate career as a newly-minted Democrat by stressing his seniority did not work.

In this case however, "anti-incumbency" was not the full -- or even primary (pun alert!) reason for his loss at the hands of Rep. Joe Sestak.

For Democrats, the case against Specter was encapsulated by an ad that showed Specter being praised by... George W. Bush in 2004, and showing Specter saying his party switch would enable him to win re-election.

Those images, coupled with a devastating tag line "Specter changed parties to save one job -- his, not yours" said it all. Memo to Democrats -- if you are running in a primary, and your opponent can link you to George W. bush, Sarah Palin, and Clarence Thomas, you are n trouble.

Joe Sestak: "I Stood Up to My Party"

It's a Long, Long Time from May to November

There is something heartening about watching energized insurgents deliver a swift kick in the pant to the big shots. Kentucky ophthalmologist Rand Paul did in the GOP Senate primary, and Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio did it when he drove Gov. Charlie Crist out of the party and into an independent run for the Senate.

On the other hand, those pale, plaid moderates do have a point --sometimes the same passionate believers who can warm the hearts of the base can chill the hearts of more centrist votes. Rubio and Paul could both win up winning; but if their crusades cost the Republicans two Senate seats, the mood at next year's tea parties will be a lot less festive.

Rand Paul to Dems: Please Bring Obama to Kentucky
Paul: Tea Party Ready to "Flex Some Muscle"

"A Few Misplaced Words?"

CBS
In some ways, the biggest political story yesterday happened not in a primary, but in Connecticut, where Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the odds-on favorite to win Chris Dodd's Senate seat -- called a press conference to deal with a devastating front-page New York Times story detailing Blumenthal's claims to have served "in" Vietnam, when he in fact served in the Marines Reserves in Washington, D.C. and in Connecticut.

He chose as his venue a VFW post in West Hartford -- an organization he was not eligible to join. And Blumenthal talked about "a few misplaced words", and how he had "misspoken" on occasion.

Watch Jeff Greenfield' Report on Blumenthal

In some ways, the explanation was more off-putting than the mistake itself. In the first place, this whole "misspoken" defense ought to be scrapped. Sometimes, one word is all it takes ("When I said, 'I pitched for the Yankees, I meant 'I cheered for the Yankees.' One small word.")

Moreover, given Blumenthal's long career out of putting veterans' causes front and center, it's simply not credible for him not to understand what it means to claim direct participation in an act as consequential as combat.

Hillary Clinton didn't lose in 2008 because he claimed she had come under sniper fire while visiting Bosnia in the '90s. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is a highly popular politician despite an inaccurate claim years ago that he flew "combat patrol missions in Vietnam.

It's the euphemistic evasions that may make Blumenthal look exactly like the kind of politician who is so unpopular a figure -- in this or any season.

Results:

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

More Analysis:

The Surprises From Tuesday's Primaries
Where do Tuesday's Winners Go from Here?
Who Had the Better Spin?

CBS News anchor Katie Couric speaks with CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield about several key primary elections across the nation where results could foreshadow the midterm races.

  • Jeff Greenfield

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