Veteran Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who switched parties hoping to prolong his career, lost his bid for a sixth term Tuesday night at the hands of impatient Democratic primary voters rejecting his plea to reward experience. Political novice Rand Paul rode support from tea party activists to a rout in Kentucky's Republican Senate primary.
In another race with national significance, Democrat Max Critz won a special House election to fill out the term of the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha in southwestern Pennsylvania. Both political parties spent roughly $1 million to sway the outcome, and highlighted the contest as a possible bellwether for the fall.
On the busiest day of the primary season to date, Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln led in her bid for nomination to a third term, but she was forced into a potentially debilitating runoff on June 8 against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
Taken together, the results were indisputably unkind to the political establishments of both parties. But any attempt to read into the results a probable trend for the fall was hazardous — particularly given Critz's victory over Republican Tim Burns to succeed Murtha in Congress.
Two-term Rep. Joe Sestak was winning 53 percent of the vote to 47 for Specter, and his victory spelled the end of the political line for the state's most durable politician of the past generation.
Sestak's campaign calling card was a television commercial that showed former President George W. Bush saying he could count on Specter, then a Republican, and then had Specter saying he had switched parties so he could win re-election. Once aired, it coincided with a steady decline in Specter's early lead in the polls.
Former Rep. Pat Toomey won the Republican nomination and will run against Sestak in the fall in what is likely to be one of the marquee races in the battle for control of the Senate.
Paul's victory was certain to add Kentucky to that list.
"I have a message, a message from the tea party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We have come to take our government back," said the 47-year-old eye surgeon, who is making his first run for public office.
Paul will face Attorney General Jack Conway, who defeated Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, in the fall.
But the same energy that helped Paul to victory presented problems to be handled carefully by the Republicans in the runup to November, when control of both houses of Congress will be at stake.
Paul has said he might not support his fellow Kentuckian, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for a new term as party leader. And no sooner had Tuesday's results been posted than Richard Viguerie, a longtime conservative warrior, suggested McConnell step aside.
In Oregon, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden faced little opposition for nomination to a third full term.