Disgruntled voters take down veteran senator Arlen Specter

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – Disenchanted voters in both parties turned against the establishment on Tuesday, choosing a conservative “Tea Party” newcomer over a handpicked Republican favorite and dumping veteran Democratic Senator Arlen Specter ahead of November’s midterm elections.

On the biggest day of voting so far, two-term Senator Blanche Lincoln also struggled and was headed to a June 8 run-off election against Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter after failing to win the necessary majority of the Democratic Senate primary vote in Arkansas.

“This is what democracy looks like — a win for the people over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington D.C.,” an exuberant Representative Joe Sestak told supporters in Pennsylvania after beating the 80-year-old Specter.

Specter, a 30-year Senate veteran and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was the latest incumbent to go down in a wave of anti-establishment anger fueled by distrust of Washington and worries neither party is doing enough to rescue the economy and restrain government spending.

In Kentucky, conservative Rand Paul easily won the Republican nomination over Secretary of State Trey Grayson — the handpicked choice of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell — for an open Senate seat in a race seen as an early test of the loosely organized Tea Party movement.

Paul, a doctor and son of libertarian Republican Representative Ron Paul, rode a wave of voter anger with the help of Tea Party activists who oppose runaway federal spending and favor more limited government.

“We have come to take our government back,” Paul told supporters in Bowling Green, Kentucky. “This Tea Party movement is a message to Washington that we are unhappy and we want things done differently.”

Paul will face state Attorney General Jack Conway, who won the Democratic primary, in November in the race for retiring Senator Jim Bunning’s seat.

INCUMBENTS AT RISK

The anti-Washington mood threatens to sweep away many well-known incumbents and put Democratic control of Congress at risk in November, when all 435 House of Representatives seats, 36 of 100 Senate seats and 37 of 50 state governorships are up for election.

A dramatic upheaval could hinder President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda, threaten each party’s remaining moderates and increase the polarization in Congress.

But Democrats got good news in a special House election in Pennsylvania to replace Democrat John Murtha, who died in February. Democrat Mark Critz, a longtime Murtha aide, beat Republican Tim Burns in a blue-collar Democratic district won by Republican John McCain in 2008.

It was the seventh consecutive special House election won by the Democrats since 2008.

“This was the only race in the country today where a Democrat faced off against a Republican, and the results are clear,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, head of the Democratic House campaign committee.

In the Senate primaries, the anti-Washington wave swept away Specter, who switched from Republican to Democrat last year after calculating he could not win a Republican primary. But a 20-point lead over Sestak turned into a dead heat as Sestak questioned Specter’s party credentials.

Sestak, a retired Navy admiral and the highest ranking former military officer ever elected to Congress, will face Republican Pat Toomey in November’s Pennsylvania Senate race.

With about 92 percent of the precincts counted in Arkansas, Lincoln led Halter by 44 percent to 42 percent. A third candidate, D.C. Morrison, won enough votes to prevent either Lincoln or Halter from crossing the 50 percent threshold.

Halter has been backed by labor unions unhappy with Lincoln’s failure to support a bill making it easier to organize workplaces and support of a Wall Street bailout.

“Halter gave voters a clear choice between someone who fights for the working families of Arkansas or a DC insider like Lincoln who is in the pocket of Wall Street and big business,” said Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president.

During the debate on an overhaul of financial regulations, Lincoln introduced a tough bill to force investment banks to dump their derivatives businesses in what critics called an overture to the left.

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(Additional reporting by Joanne Allen and Jon Hurdle, Editing by Philip Barbara)

Disgruntled voters take down veteran senator Arlen Specter