Citizens voting in primaries across the countryWASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Blanche Lincoln battled to survive union opposition and an anti-incumbent tide that’s already drowned two fellow senators, and political outsiders from coast to coast tested their strength Tuesday on the busiest day of an unpredictable primary season.
By: David Espo, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Blanche Lincoln battled to survive union opposition and an anti-incumbent tide that’s already drowned two fellow senators, and political outsiders from coast to coast tested their strength Tuesday on the busiest day of an unpredictable primary season.
With polls showing a sullen electorate, there was no shortage of subplots as voters in nearly a dozen states chose candidates for Congress and governors’ offices. Californians decided whether to lead the fall GOP ticket with a pair of wealthy businesswomen campaigning on a promise to cut spending, and tea party activists tested their muscle in Nevada, backing Sharron Angle in a multi-candidate race to select a Republican opponent against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a state where unemployment was 13.7 percent in April.
Nevada’s Republican governor, Jim Gibbons, faced strong opposition for renomination after a term marked by a messy public divorce,
At the same time, a pair of former governors — Republican Terry Branstad in Iowa and Democrat Edmund G. Brown Jr. in California — hoped to take the first steps toward reclaiming the power they once held.
In the House, one Republican incumbent and one Democrat faced what amounted to ideological purity challenges.
Republican Rep. Bob Inglis in South Carolina sought renomination in his solidly conservative district in a race in which his vote for the 2008 financial bailout was an issue. And California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, a member of the Blue Dog moderates’ coalition in Congress, faced a liberal challenger for her safely Democratic seat.
The races took place in the shadow of the worst recession in decades, stubbornly high unemployment, dispiriting day-by-day images of the damage caused by an offshore oil rig disaster, and poll after poll that reported the voters angry and eager for a change.
“I don’t believe very many politicians or very many people on the political scene, so I just had to vote my conscience and my prayers,” said Judy Hamilton, a 59-year-old administrative assistant from Columbia, S.C., as she cast her ballot in the state’s Republican primary.
That sentiment made the day’s balloting a prelude to the fall, when Republicans hope to challenge Democrats for control of Congress and the two parties vie for three dozen statehouses midway through President Barack Obama’s term.
So far, Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-W. Va., and Parker Griffith, R-Ala., have been defeated, a balanced set of one incumbent from each party in each house of Congress.
Lincoln, a two-term moderate, narrowly led in balloting in a primary May 18, but was thrown into a runoff with Lt. Gov Bill Halter three weeks ago when she fell short of a majority.
“There are very few who come out on the battleground and dare to say, ’Where is the common ground? Where do we solve these problems?’ One of the reasons I’ve been beat up is I’ve gotten out of that foxhole. I’m out here in the middle,” Lincoln said after voting in west Little Rock.
Organized labor, angered over Lincoln’s positions on health care, union organizing proposals and trade, poured more than $5 million into an effort to lift Halter to the nomination. Union leaders said they were intent on demanding accountability from lawmakers who make promises and then fail to follow through.
Still, Halter declined consistently to state a public position on one of labor’s big priorities — the proposal to make it easier for unions to organize workers.
The winner will face Republican Rep. John Boozman in the fall in a race that the GOP has made one of its top targets.
There were gubernatorial primaries in California, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, South Carolina and South Dakota.
South Carolina State Rep. Nikki Haley, running to become the first female governor in her state’s history, battled several rivals as well as claims that she has had trysts with two men. She vociferously denied the allegations of infidelity, and relied on support from tea party activists and an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to aid her in the race with Rep. Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and state Attorney General Henry McMaster.
A runoff will be held on June 22 if no candidate gains a majority.
In California, Brown faced little opposition for the Democratic nomination to reclaim an office he left in 1983. Among Republicans, eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner were the leading contenders in a battle of multimillionaires. She spent more than $70 million of her own fortune, while he put in more than $25 million.
In Iowa, Branstad, who served four terms as governor before leaving office in 1999, was unopposed for the Republican nomination to run against Gov. Chet Culver.
In the California Senate primary, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Rep. Tom Campbell and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore sought the Republican nomination to oppose three-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in the fall.
There also were primaries in 97 House districts, with little serious opposition for most incumbents despite the evident public anger at elected leaders.
In South Carolina, Rep. Tim Scott was in a nine-way race for the Republican nomination for Congress. If elected in the fall, he would be the only black member of his party in the House.
Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.