The race was painted by Republicans as a referendum on the "Obama-Pelosi agenda" and Republicans are now likely to face questions about whether, even in this environment, just criticizing the "Obama-Pelosi" agenda as Burns had done through this entire campaign is sufficient. This district was precisely the kind of district that Republicans needed to win in order to become the majority party this fall.
Republicans will argue that the turnout advantages for Democrats in a special election on Primary Day with a competitive Democratic primary at the top of the ticket were too great to overcome, but that they will win this seat in November.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, called the results of the special election "undoubtedly disappointing" but vowed to take a lesson from it for the November midterm elections.
"This hard-fought race gave us an early preview of what Democrats will attempt to do in the fall in order to survive," Sessions said in a statement. "They will steer clear of publicly campaigning with President Obama and Speaker Pelosi, distance themselves from the Democratic agenda, and attempt to co-opt Republican positions on the issues. The bottom line is that the makeup of the House remains the same and our goal of winning back the majority in November has not changed."
Kaine billed the victory as a "significant blow" to the Republican party.
"Tonight's result demonstrates clearly that Democrats can compete and win in conservative districts," he said in a statement. "The Republican Party's failure to take a seat that they themselves said was tailor made for them to win is a significant blow and shows that while conventional wisdom holds that this will be a tough year for Democrats, the final chapter of this year's elections is far from written."
In Arkansas, incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., facing the toughest political battle of her career, failed to win the majority of votes in the Democratic primary. She will now face a runoff election with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter on June 8.
Lincoln was the target of much of the same anti-incumbent sentiment as Specter. But unlike the Pennsylvania senator, she did garner a majority of the votes, but not the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
"Three more weeks, two more candidates, one choice for change," an enthusiastic Halter said in a speech tonight. "Today Arkansans had their say. If you send the same people to Washington, you'll get the same results."
The turnout in the Arkansas primary was projected to be roughly 31 percent. The turnout for the primaries is usually in the mid-20s so the number is "above par," a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office in Arkansas told ABC News. She said they received 125,000 absentee and-or early votes and that usually makes up about 25 percent of the electorate.
Despite her moderate record, being a Democrat in Republican-trending Arkansas in this political environment made Lincoln one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats up for reelection this year.
Labor unions poured more than $5 million into Halter's candidacy as he slammed Lincoln for voting for the bailout for banks and opposing the Employee Free Choice Act or card check, which is a high priority for the labor movement.