Voters in several high-profile primary races across the country Tuesday sent an unmistakable message to incumbents about their dissatisfaction with politics as usual ahead.
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Joe Sestak defeated five-term Sen. Arlen Specter in the state's Democratic Senate primary, while Tea Party-backed candidate Rand Paul captured the Republican Senate nomination in Kentucky, defeating GOP-establishment candidate and Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
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Paul, who could become the first Tea Party candidate to go to Washington if he wins in November, said on "Good Morning America" today that his victory represents a rejection of the way both parties have handled the nation's fiscal policies.
"When [Republicans] were in charge, we doubled the deficit, and now with Democrats in charge, they're tripling the deficit," Paul said. "What the Tea Party says is there's bipartisan blame to go around for the deficit and we have to do a better job."
Paul, an ophthalmologist and son of longtime U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, was declared the winner of his race shortly after polls closed Tuesday night, amassing a resounding lead over Grayson. Fueled by grassroots momentum and his father's donor base, Paul's candidacy will now put the strength of the Tea Party movement to the test in the general election in November.
In Pennsylvania, Sestak, a virtual unknown compared to his incumbent opponent, successfully exploited the anti-Washington mood and campaigned around Specter's decision to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party last year, a move Specter made to avoid a potential defeat against his likely GOP opponent Pat Toomey.
"Too many career politicians are a bit too concerned about keeping their jobs rather than serving the public, helping the people," Sestak said in a victory speech Tuesday night.
A visibly emotional Specter, who had the endorsement of President Obama and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, congratulated his rival and pledged his support.
"It's been a great privilege to serve the people of Pennsylvania, and it's been a great privilege to be in the U.S. Senate," Specter said. "I will be working very hard for the people of the commonwealth in the coming months."
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State said that turnout was "relatively light" compared to past elections, especially in Philadelphia, where Specter's main supporter base was concentrated.
The results were "an anti-establishment, politics as usual message loud and clear," Republican strategist Matthew Dowd on "GMA" today.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazille concurred. "If you are part of the establishment, or receive endorsements from the establishment, then voters care," she said.
Specter, who received such endorsements, served as one of two senators from Pennsylvania for nearly 30 years. He was first elected to the seat in 1980 and, through the years, survived many tight races and challenges, including against Toomey in 2004.
But what jolted Sestak's visibility in this primary was a television ad showing Specter with President George W. Bush and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Sestak also played upon Specter's party switch, painting him as a politician who made the move for his own political gain and to save his job rather than for his constituents.