The 30-year U.S. Senate career of Arlen Specter came to an end with his primary election loss in Pennsylvania to Democratic Representative Joe Sestak.
Specter’s defeat today came as Rand Paul, a favorite of Tea Party activists, won the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky in a demonstration of the movement’s ability to convert anger against Washington into a political win.
Specter, 80, was seeking to overcome anti-incumbent sentiment in his primary race for re-nomination, as was two-term Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. She was in a close primary race with Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, according to returns from the Associated Press.
“It’s been a great privilege to serve the people of Pennsylvania,” Specter told supporters tonight after the Associated Press declared Sestak the winner in their race. “It’s been a great privilege to be in the United States Senate.”
Sestak led Specter, 54 percent to 46 percent, with about 91 percent of the vote counted, according to AP.
“This is what democracy should look like -- a win for the people over the establishment,” Sestak told his supporters tonight. “It should come as no surprise to anyone that people want a change.”
Results from the votes in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Arkansas will be analyzed for the clues they offer about November’s midterm elections.
Specter’s loss was the third for a congressional incumbent in less than two weeks and underscored potential difficulties for lawmakers in both parties in November’s general election. The Utah state Republican convention’s May 8 vote ended three-term Senator Bob Bennett’s re-nomination bid. Democratic Representative Alan Mollohan, a 14-term incumbent from West Virginia, lost in a May 11 primary.
Sestak, 58, campaigned in part by questioning Specter’s commitment to Democratic causes. Last year, Specter switched parties and, at the time, gave Democrats the crucial 60th vote needed to thwart Republican stalling tactics in the chamber.
When Specter made the change, he said his decision was based in part on his slim prospects of winning the Republican nomination in 2010.
At the time, President Barack Obama pledged to back his re-election. Specter used the president in his advertising, although Obama didn’t campaign in the state in the race’s closing days.
Flew Over Pennsylvania
As voters were casting their ballots, the president flew over Pennsylvania on his way to an event highlighting the administration’s efforts on the economy. He made no mention of the primaries during his appearance today in Youngstown, Ohio.
Pat Toomey, a former congressman, won the Republican nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania.
Paul, 47, defeated Secretary of State Trey Grayson, 38, who was backed by Kentucky’s Republican establishment, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
An ophthalmologist and son of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, Paul called the mandate of his victory “huge” as he embraced the Tea Party’s quest to promote limited government.
“Washington is horribly broken,” he said in his victory speech. “We are encountering a day of reckoning and this movement, this Tea Party movement, is a message to Washington that we’re unhappy and that we want things done differently.”
Paul led Grayson, 59 percent to 35 percent, with about 90 percent of the vote counted, according to AP.
In Arkansas, Halter, 49, was backed by labor unions and the liberal activist group MoveOn.org in his race against Lincoln, 49.
Halter gained favor among Democratic activists when Lincoln in March voted against landmark health-care-overhaul legislation. Since then, Lincoln pushed a derivatives provision into the financial-overhaul bill before Congress that would require commercial banks to wall off their swaps-trading desks. It has been among the bill’s most contentious issues.
The presence of a third primary candidate, businessman D.C. Morrison, may force a June 8 runoff between the two top finishers if nobody wins at least 50 percent of today vote.
With almost 40 percent of the vote counted, Lincoln had 44 percent, Halter 42 percent and Morrison 14 percent.
With nationwide unemployment at 9.9 percent, Republicans are hoping voter discontent will enable them in November to reduce Democratic House and Senate majorities -- or perhaps take control of one or both chambers. Democrats control the Senate, 59-41, and the House, 254-177.
Special House Election
Another race that could provide insight into the midterm elections occurred in a coal-mining area of western Pennsylvania, Democrat Mark Critz, 48, won a special election for a U.S. House seat against Republican Tim Burns, 42, according to the AP. The election was held to fill the seat vacated by the death of Democratic Representative John Murtha.
The district is the kind Republicans may need to win in November, if they are to take control of the House. Although Democrats have about a 2-to-1 advantage in the district’s voter Registration, it was the only district in the nation where 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry won and where Obama lost in 2008.
With about 84 percent of the vote counted, Critz led 53 percent to 45 percent, according to AP.
Paul will be the favorite in Republican-leaning Kentucky this November to fill the seat of retiring Republican Jim Bunning. His father once ran for president as the Libertarian Party candidate and, as a Republican House member, for years has sought the abolishment of the Federal Reserve. McConnell has said he will support the party’s nominee.
Paul had the backing of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, as well as that of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican who is donating funds to more conservative candidates within the party.
Democrats in Kentucky picked Attorney General Jack Conway over Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo for their Senate nominee.
In the race for Pennsylvania governor, Attorney General Tom Corbett won the Republican nomination, while Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato won the Democratic nomination.
In Oregon, where term limits prevent Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski from running again, voters were selecting Democratic and Republican candidates for that office. The nine-candidate Republican field includes Chris Dudley, a former National Basketball Association player for the Portland Trail Blazers.