Three congressional candidates celebrated bittersweet victories in Connecticut and Hawaii on Sunday as a tumultuous political landscape forced them to keep an eye over their shoulders.
Days after voters sent a clear, anti-incumbent message in primary elections in three states, the meaning of the latest political battles proved more murky.
The Hawaii special election, which ended Saturday, and party nominating conventions in Connecticut came 5½ months before the 2010 election will decide control of Congress. The non-partisan Cook Political Report predicts dozens of incumbents, most of them Democrats, are in competitive races.
In Connecticut, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon emerged as the top Republican for U.S. Senate at a state convention last week.
But her leading opponent, former representative Rob Simmons, vowed to challenge her in an August primary.
That challenge prolongs a fight over who will fill the seat Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd will retire from this year.
"The best thing I can do to help the Republican Party to victory ... is to give them another choice," Simmons said after losing to McMahon.
McMahon, who has cast herself as an outsider, shifted focus to the November election, which the Cook Political Report considers a tossup. "It will be a choice between something different and more of the same," she said.
Campaign-finance records show McMahon has $2 million in the bank compared with $1.2 million for Simmons.
Democratic voters, meanwhile, nominated Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for the race after a report last week in The New York Times that he told supporters he served in Vietnam when, in fact, he had not.
"What the public is looking for are candidates and officeholders that they can trust," said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Blumenthal, he said, "damaged his reputation."
Cornyn's Democratic counterpart, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, said he doesn't expect the issue will change the course of the election: "If you listen to the veterans in Connecticut, they said, 'We knew that he did not serve in Vietnam.'"
Cornyn and Menendez spoke on NBC's Meet the Press.
The Hawaii election put a Republican in control of the House district where President Obama was born and raised. Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou won 39 percent of the vote to serve out the remainder of Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie's term. Two Democrats, former representative Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa, together secured 58 percent of the vote.
Abercrombie, who is running for governor of Hawaii, held the seat for the past 20 years.
The two Democrats split the Democratic vote. But because the state will hold September primaries before the regular general election, Djou will face a single Democratic opponent when he defends the seat in November.
Djou called the victory significant for the party but acknowledged it is only a first step toward keeping the seat. "What the people of Hawaii have given us is a short-term lease with an option to buy," he said.
"That's a significant election win for us," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said on ABC's This Week.
Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he is not concerned.
"In the November election, it will be one Democrat against one Republican," he told ABC. "We feel very, very confident about winning."