The outsiders (Paul, Sestak) defeat the insiders (Grayson, Specter)… Will Lincoln be the next incumbent to go down to defeat on June 8?... PA-12 shows that a good candidate and campaign can overcome a tough political environment… The Democrats' relatively good night… John Boozman's VERY GOOD night… Turnout down in Pennsylvania, but up in Kentucky… Does Mitch McConnell need to watch his back?... Blumenthal lives for another day, but now he has to worry about both Linda McMahon and the New York Times… And the Obama White House hosts its second state dinner (will there be any more party-crashers?)
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The Outsiders: Last night's wins by Rand Paul (R) and Joe Sestak (D) weren't flukes. As we wrote yesterday, both men are a bit quirky, both are a bit unconventional, and both are relative political outsiders -- at least compared with their opponents. And those characteristics made them ideal candidates in a political environment where the public is dissatisfied with Congress, with the federal government, and with business as usual. The question for Paul and Sestak is whether their unconventional campaigns can succeed in a general election. As for last night's insiders, 30-year incumbent Arlen Specter (D), the longest-serving senator in Pennsylvania history, became the third incumbent in the last 10 days to go down to defeat (joining Republican Bob Bennett and Democrat Alan Mollohan). And in Kentucky, Paul beat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's handpicked candidate, Trey Grayson (R).
*** 'Victory over Washington, D.C.': Both Paul and Sestak struck outsider and anti-Washington messages in their victory speeches. Said Paul: "I have a message, a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We've come to take our government back." (Strikingly, Paul said the word "Kentucky" just once in his speech last night; that'll become a potential issue for him in the fall.) And here's what Sestak said: "This is what democracy looks like -- a win for the people over the establishment, over the status quo, victory over Washington D.C." As the Washington Post says, "Tuesday's results were the most powerful indicator to date of the voter anger and dissatisfaction that has shaped the political climate all year."
*** Spare some change? If you go back to Scott Brown's victory in January -- or even Obama's in 2008 -- voters still seem to be sending the message that they want change. This has been a frustrated and angry electorate since 2006, and that's why we're seeing this anger at Washington, on both sides. By the way, it's worth remembering that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison lost her Texas gubernatorial primary back in March, so we have -- for now -- three incumbent senators who have lost this year: Hutchison, Bennett, and Specter. Which brings us to…
*** Run-off in Arkansas: Will Bill Halter in Arkansas be the next outsider to win? It's quite possible since Halter forced incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) into a June 8 run-off, with Lincoln getting just 45% to Halter's 43% (and another candidate, D.C. Morrison, got a surprising 13%). In the physics of politics, you have to assume that much of the Morrison vote would end up going to the challenger Halter and not the incumbent Lincoln. In fact, according to our back-of-the-envelope math, Halter wins in a two-way if he gets only 60% of the Morrison vote. Organized labor and progressive groups are touting their active campaigning -- and millions of dollars -- for Halter. But the biggest winner in Arkansas last night was clearly John Boozman (R), who was able to avoid a run-off in the GOP's crowded eight-candidate Senate primary by getting 53% of the vote. Folks, Boozman goes into the general election as the clear favorite to win this seat in November. In our Senate rankings, Arkansas has been sitting at No. 3 or No. 4, it could spike up to No. 2 at some point behind North Dakota -- and ahead of even Delaware.
*** Is this really 1994? Here's another lesson we learned from last night: A good campaign can overcome a tough political environment. In the only contest pitting a Democrat against a Republican, Mark Critz (D) defeated Tim Burns (R) in the special congressional election to replace the late Rep. Jack Murtha (D) in Pennsylvania. As we've pointed out, this isn't a good sign for the GOP in its quest to take back the House in November. Why? Because this was a race that Republicans -- in this kind of political environment -- should have been able to win. Yes, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district. And, yes, the Dem turnout in the competitive Sestak-vs.-Specter primary helped Critz (though the statewide Dem turnout wasn't overly impressive). But this was the only congressional district in the country that John Kerry won in '04 but Obama lost in '08, meaning that it was ripe for the picking. Remember, back in 1994, Republicans were the ones winning House special elections. But can this be '94 all over again if the Democrats are the ones winning these things -- four straight this cycle (PA-12, NY-23, CA-10, NY-20) and seven since 2008 (IL-14, MS-1, LA-6). By the way, there was a ton of finger-pointing among House Republicans after they lost the NY-23 special late last year; it could be worse internally after last night.
*** A good night for the Dems? Indeed, it wouldn't be wrong to view all of last night's results as a good night for the Democratic Party. In addition to holding on to the Murtha seat, they ended up with two relatively blank-slate candidates (Sestak in Pennsylvania and Jack Conway in Kentucky) -- and maybe three (if Bill Halter wins the run-off in Arkansas) -- who might fare better in this anti-incumbent/anti-establishment environment. It's quite possible that Democrats end up losing all three Senate contests in November. But it's also hard to argue now that Specter, Mongiardo, and Lincoln would have been the party's stronger general-election candidates. And if the Democrats win one of these races in November, they'll consider that a victory of sorts.
*** Breaking down the turnout: Last night, turnout in the Pennsylvania Senate primary (slightly more than 1 million) was down from the equally competitive 2002 primary between Ed Rendell and Bob Casey (1.2 million). But turnout was up in Kentucky -- for both parties. The Dem Senate primary had 514,000 voters, compared with the 348,000 who turned out for the '07 Dem gubernatorial primary or the 285,000 who turned out for the '03 gubernatorial primary. And on the GOP side, Rand Paul got more votes last night (206,000) than the COMBINED votes for Ernie Fletcher or Ann Northup in the '07 GOP gubernatorial primary (202,000). The Paul turnout was all the more impressive considering this was a closed GOP primary, and that all voter registration changes had to be made by Dec. 31, 2009.
*** Does McConnell need to watch his back? Given Grayson's loss (and Paul's victory) last night, people are now beginning to ask this question: When does Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell need to start racking up some victories? And if he doesn't, could his leadership post be in jeopardy. Consider: He went all in on health care and lost; he tried to go all in on financial reform and appears to be losing; he lost -- badly -- in yesterday's Paul-Grayson primary; and his preferred candidate in the 2007 GOP gubernatorial primary in his state didn't win, either. When you combine McConnell's struggles with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's poor poll numbers, we might have the weakest pair of Senate leaders, politically, that we've seen in quite some time.
*** Blumenthal lives for another day: As for Richard Blumenthal's current struggles, his press conference yesterday, where he was surrounded by veterans who testified on his behalf, allowed him to live for another day. But there are still legitimate questions to ask here: Why is he glorifying his service in the Marine Reserves when that was essentially a route to avoid combat in the '60s and '70s? Why didn't he or his staff correct news accounts suggesting that he served in Vietnam? And why is no one still asking about his erroneous claim that he was captain of the Harvard swim team? Today, the New York Times yet another tough front-page piece on Blumenthal, as well as a hard-hitting editorial. Not only does Blumenthal have to contend with Linda McMahon and her millions, but he also now has to deal with the New York Times, which is a problem he may not be able to overcome.
*** Iran, Mexico, and Obama: In other news, "The Obama administration announced an agreement on Tuesday with other major powers, including Russia and China, to impose a fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, setting the stage for an intense tug of war with Tehran as it tries to avoid passage of the penalties by the full United Nations Security Council," the New York Times writes. "Daily Rundown" today interviews UN Ambassador Susan Rice on this issue. Also today, the president holds a press conference with Mexican President Calderon (at 11:50 am ET) and then hosts a state dinner for him (at 7:10 pm).
Countdown to HI special election: 3 days
Countdown to ID primary: 6 days
Countdown to CA, IA, ME, NJ, ND, SC, SD, and VA primaries, and AR run-off: 20 days:
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 167 days