Two U.S. senators in fight for political survival

* Two Senate primaries will test depth of voter anger

* Kentucky conservative challenges party establishment

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, May 14 (BestGrowthStock) – Democratic U.S. Senators
Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln will be fighting for
political survival on Tuesday in contests that could test the
depth of anti-Washington anger ahead of November’s midterm
elections.

On the biggest day of the campaign season so far, the two
moderates face strong challenges from the left in their home
states of Pennsylvania and Arkansas. In Kentucky, Republicans
choose between an establishment favorite and a conservative
“Tea Party” contender to run for an open Senate seat.

The three primary battles could turn on a growing wave of
anti-establishment voter anger fueled by severe distrust of
Washington and worries that neither party is doing enough on
the economy, unemployment and to restrain government spending.

Prominent incumbents in each party — three-term Republican
Senator Robert Bennett of Utah and 14-term Democratic
Representative Alan Mollohan of West Virginia — already failed
to win nomination in the past week in a possible sign of things
to come.

“I haven’t seen anything like it in 30 years. In both
parties, it’s out with the old and in with the new,” said
pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research.
“People are just angry with anything and anybody that has to do
with Washington.”

That anger could dent the traditional advantages in money
and name recognition that have helped more than 94 percent of
U.S. House of Representatives incumbents win re-election in the
last decade. Senate incumbents fared nearly as well.

But the likelihood that this year could be different has
fueled panic in some Washington circles ahead of a November
election when 435 House seats, 36 Senate seats and 37
governorships are at stake.

“This is a year when being an incumbent is not the
advantage it normally is, and in some cases it’s a decided
disadvantage,” Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown said.
“An anti-incumbent wave is building that we are just beginning
to see.”

Specter, a 30-year Senate veteran and former chairman of
the Judiciary Committee, would become the biggest political
name to go under that wave if he loses on Tuesday.

‘SAVING ONE JOB: HIS’

He switched from Republican to Democrat last year after
realizing he could not win a Republican primary, but a 20-point
lead over Representative Joe Sestak has slipped to a dead heat
as Sestak questioned Specter’s party credentials.

Sestak has been airing a television ad with the tag line:
“Arlen Specter switched parties to save one job — his, not
yours.”

Party officials have rallied to Specter’s aid, and he aired
an ad featuring President Barack Obama praising him. But even
with a primary victory, Specter would face a tough re-election
fight in November against Republican Pat Toomey.

Toomey, a former congressman who unsuccessfully challenged
Specter in the 2004 Republican Senate primary, has a slight
lead over Specter in the latest Quinnipiac poll.

In Arkansas, two-term incumbent Lincoln is in a heated
primary race with Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter that features
nasty nicknames — “Bailout Blanche” and “Dollar Bill Halter”
— and a grass-roots campaign for Halter by labor unions and
activists.

Unions are unhappy with Lincoln’s failure to support a bill
making it easier to organize workplaces, while some activists
are angry at Lincoln’s opposition to a public insurance option
in the healthcare overhaul.

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.

Like Specter, Lincoln faces a tough general election
campaign even if she beats Halter. Polls show Representative
John Boozman, expected to emerge from a crowded Republican
primary, currently leads her in a potential November matchup.

“At the end of the day, whoever wins that Democratic
primary is probably going to lose the general election,” Coker
said.

For Republicans, Tuesday’s highlight will be the Kentucky
battle between establishment favorite Trey Grayson and Rand
Paul, a doctor and son of libertarian Republican Representative
Ron Paul, who has been backed by conservative “Tea Party”
groups.

A victory for Paul, who leads in recent polls, would be
another boost for a Tea Party movement that helped take down
Bennett in Utah and drive moderate Governor Charlie Crist out
of Florida’s Republican Senate primary. Crist will run as an
independent.

Grayson has been endorsed by Senate Republican leader Mitch
McConnell of Kentucky, whose support in most years wold clear
the field of challengers. But Paul has been endorsed by Senator
Jim DeMint of South Carolina, feeding speculation DeMint will
challenge McConnell for his leadership post in December.

Pennsylvania also will hold a special House election to
replace Democrat John Murtha, who died in February. A
Republican win would be a first step in their climb toward
reclaiming House control — they need to gain 41 seats in the
435-seat chamber.

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(Editing by Vicki Allen)

Two U.S. senators in fight for political survival