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« Super Tuesday? Not For Another Three Weeks | Blog Home Page | Lewis Backs Marshall In N.C. Senate Runoff »

2010 Continues To Defy Conventional Wisdom

There were no major surprises on what was the busiest voting day to date Tuesday, as voters again signaled that support of the Washington establishment is no virtue this cycle. Nowhere was that more clear than in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, where favored candidates lost their party's nomination.

In the Keystone State, it was 30-year Senate veteran Arlen Specter. The longtime Republican left the GOP last year to avoid losing a primary on Tuesday to conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey. Instead, the 80-year-old Specter lost the Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak.

The convincing margin of defeat came for Specter despite endorsements not just from the White House, but Sen. Bob Casey, Gov. Ed Rendell, and the state party. Specter becomes the third incumbent to lose his party's nomination in the past 10 days.

In Kentucky, ophthalmologist Rand Paul made a statement on behalf of the tea party movement he embraced with his 23-point dismissal of Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who had received both behind-the-scenes and ultimately public support from Senate Minority Leader and Kentucky native Mitch McConnell, as well as other establishment party figures.

In both cases, the parties immediately moved publicly to mend fences, as November results remain the most important goal. "We will wholeheartedly support Congressman Sestak as the Democratic nominee," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated.

"I am confident that we will keep Kentucky's U.S. Senate seat in Republican hands thanks to Dr. Rand Paul's nomination today," said John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a memo to Republican Senate leaders.

In Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln didn't lose the nomination on Tuesday, but she didn't win it either. Taking just 45 percent of the Democratic primary vote, Lincoln was forced into a June 8 runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. The result was somewhat closer than expected while a third candidate drew a larger-than-expected share of the vote.

Republican Rep. John Boozman won his party's nomination outright despite an even more crowded primary field, giving him a three-week head start as Democrats will likely continue pouring resources into an intraparty skirmish.

Washington Democrats did have other reasons to cheer, however. In yet another shock to the system of conventional wisdom, Republicans failed to pick up Pennsylvania's 12th district seat in a special election to replace the late John Murtha. While it wasn't necessarily a surprise, it does alter the 2010 storyline once again.

Following a major special Senate election victory in Massachusetts in January, this southwestern Pennsylvania seat looked ripe for the picking, as the only seat in the country that flipped from John Kerry to John McCain at the presidential level. But Democrat Mark Critz will keep the seat in Democratic hands for at least another seven months after defeating Republican Tim Burns by a 53-45 percent margin.

"This was the only race in the country today where a Democrat faced off against a Republican and the results are clear," DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen wrote late Tuesday. "For all of their bluster about building a national wave this year, including RNC Chairman Michael Steele's guarantee of victory for Tim Burns, Republican policies were once again rejected when it came time to face the voters."

Burns had made the race a referendum on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, but NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions noted in a statement that Critz didn't exactly run on the party line. Sessions said this proved Democrats will "distance themselves from the Democratic agenda and attempt to co-opt Republican positions on the issues" in order to survive.

Still, the victory keeps Democrats' winning streak in House special elections alive, though that streak is expected to end when the votes are tallied in Hawaii's 1st district this weekend.

Elsewhere, Democrats also were buoyed by the result of their own race in Kentucky, where Attorney General Jack Conway narrowly defeated Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo. Despite Mongiardo's near upset win against Jim Bunning in 2004, national party officials felt Conway would put up a stronger challenge this fall; he has indeed matched up better according to the RCP Averages.

Overall, however, it was something of a mixed message for the White House. For a sitting president to see his endorsed candidate (Specter) lose in a primary is hard to spin, even though officials signaled in the closing days of the race that they were happy regardless of the outcome.

And as Democrats celebrated Paul's win -- both as a repudiation of McConnell and with the belief that he is the less palatable nominee -- it is his grassroots army of conservative activists that could prove to be decisive nationwide in November.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli