Primary election results: establishment candidates battered

Primary elections results from Tuesday saw establishment candidates – incumbents and those favored by party leaders in Washington – face stiff opposition from challengers.

Daniel R. Patmore/AP
Dan Coats, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, won the GOP primary election with nearly 40 percent of the vote, and will face Democrat Brad Ellsworth. The candidates are seeking the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.
Harry Hamburg/AP
Sen. Bob Bennett R- Utah, darling of the National Rifle Association and grandson of a Mormon Church president, suddenly may not be conservative enough for ultraconservative Utah. The GOP's convention is May 8.

Remember those bumper stickers, “Question Authority”? That’s what voters did in primaries Tuesday in Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina.

All of the establishment favorites of both parties survived, but in some cases, they won unconvincingly or are still alive only because they qualified for a runoff. In Indiana, former Sen. Dan Coats (R) won his party’s nomination to regain his old seat with just 39 percent of the vote. He faced four other candidates, some of them backed by "tea party" activists. Mr. Coats will face Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) in the general election to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D).

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall came in ahead of former state Sen. Cal Cunningham – who is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – in the Democratic primary for Senate. But since neither of them reached the required 40 percent threshold, they face a June 22 runoff. Ms. Marshall won 36 percent to Mr. Cunningham’s 27 percent. Four other candidates split the rest. The winner of the runoff will face incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R), who is favored to win.

In Ohio’s marquee race, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) – the favorite of Democrats in Washington – defeated the underfunded Secretary of State Jennifer Brunning (D) in a bruising Senate primary battle, 55 percent to 45 percent. Though Lieutenant Governor Fisher won, the margin of victory was closer than expected, and has left Fisher short of funds, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Fisher will face former Rep. Rob Portman (R) in the race for retiring GOP Sen. George Voinovich’s seat.

In Indiana, Rep. Dan Burton (R), a 28-year incumbent, survived his primary battle with just 30 percent of the vote. He faced six challengers in the primary, who divided the anti-Burton/anti-Washington-establishment sentiment.

Turnout was light in Ohio and North Carolina, typical for a midterm primary. In Indiana, the AP reported that Republican turnout in the Senate primary ended up being the highest this decade, including in presidential election years.

But the general lack of excitement reported on the ground in all three states raised questions about the tea party movement, which conservatives are counting on in November to sweep Democrats out of office. Of course, three states are not enough on which to base overall conclusions – and it’s looking increasingly likely that tea partyers could be giant-killers in Utah.

Three-term Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah heads into the state GOP convention on Saturday with a stiff wind in his face. He needs to win the support of 40 percent of the 3,500 state delegates to make the ballot in the June 22 primary, and polls show him hard-put to achieve that.

In addition, according to the Deseret News, two convention agenda items appear tailor-made to hit Senator Bennett, one a resolution denouncing a healthcare reform bill he had co-sponsored with a Democrat and which included an individual mandate to purchase insurance. Another resolution, co-sponsored by three of Bennett’s challengers, amends the state party platform with a new, tough position against illegal immigration.

Anti-establishment feeling is also playing out in the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Arlen Specter, running for reelection for the first time as a Democrat, had been comfortably ahead of challenger Rep. Joe Sestak (D) – until now. Congressman Sestak, less well-known statewide than the five-term Senator Specter, has ramped up his TV advertising and narrowed the margin in the race to single digits. Their primary is May 18.


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