Anxious congressional incumbents and establishment candidates from Arkansas to California made their final pitch to primary voters Tuesday, mindful that they could be the next to fall in an unpredictable election year that has claimed several veteran lawmakers.
On the busiest primary night thus far, 12 states were holding primaries and runoffs as a new survey finds deepening anti-incumbent sentiment among the electorate and antipathy toward elected officials.
Unpopular Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and vulnerable Sen. Barbara Boxer will find out their Republican opponents this fall. And fellow Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln will learn whether she'll even be on the November ballot. Voters also are choosing Democratic and Republican nominees for governor in several states like Iowa, where the general election contest is certain to be competitive. And GOP primary voters in South Carolina are settling a nasty four-way contest.
The outcomes will determine matchups for November, when Democrats will try to maintain their comfortable majorities in the House and Senate and overcome Republican challenges in dozens of gubernatorial races.
Although Democrats are on defense, the results of previous primaries make clear that neither party is safe from voters' ire.
Nationwide, Democrats and Republicans alike are facing an electorate filled with people like Judy Hamilton of Columbia, S.C., who voted in the GOP primary even though she says, "I don't believe very many politicians or very many people on the political scene."
Across the board, voters are angry over the state of the country, from the persistent economic woes to the typical ways of Washington. And earlier nominating contests in Pennsylvania, Utah, West Virginia and Alabama indicated that voters are willing to fire Washington incumbents — regardless of party.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday found that 69 percent of people say they are either dissatisfied or angry with the government, and 60 percent say they are inclined to look for other candidates in November — the most ever in a Post-ABC poll. It also found that just 29 percent of Americans say they would back their congressman in November. That's lower than 1994, when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years.
Even so, the party that controls the White House typically takes a big beating in the president's first midterm elections, and an increasingly difficult political environment for Democrats is boosting the GOP's hopes of a victorious November. President Barack Obama's job performance rating is hovering around 50 percent, and most people say the nation is on the wrong track.
The centrist Lincoln, a two-term senator, may be the next veteran lawmaker to fall.
She's in a runoff against Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who is being supported by labor unions and liberal groups that have spent millions to try to unseat the White House-backed senator. They were forced into a two-way race for the party nomination after neither captured 50 percent of the vote in the May 18 primary.
"I feel like I just stabbed my country in the back ... With fear and trembling, I voted for Blanche," said Pat Wallace of North Little Rock, Ark., after voting at Halter's precinct. "I don't like this," she added. "I want to vote for someone. We just don't have any leaders."
The anti-incumbent mood also has put Reid of Nevada and Boxer of California on notice that they'll face tough re-election fights regardless of whom Republicans nominate.
In Nevada, three Republicans sought the chance to take on Reid — whose popularity is low in Nevada — and tea party darling Sharron Angle was considered the candidate to beat. In California, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina was leading the three-candidate field for the chance to challenge Boxer.
California also hosts a marquee GOP primary in the race to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republican billionaire Meg Whitman, a former eBay chief executive who has spent more than $70 million of her own fortune, faced state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, a wealthy former businessman. Attorney General Jerry Brown, a former governor, is the likely Democratic nominee.
"I feel very confident about this primary election. I'm going to win this one," joked Brown, after voting at a fire house early Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Republicans appear ready to oust Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons in the wake of his messy divorce; former federal judge Brian Sandoval is favored for the GOP nomination. The victor will run against the all-but-certain Democratic nominee Rory Reid, the senator's son.
Also, South Carolina Republicans are choosing a successor for the term-limited and scandal-scarred GOP Gov. Mark Sanford, and the victor probably will become governor of the heavily Republican state. State Rep. Nikki Haley had the advantage in the final days; she is trying to become the state's first female governor and overcome allegations of infidelity, which she denies.