Primary Results Show Battle Ahead for Incumbents

In the primary results Wednesday, three high-profile legislator bypassed the predicted anti-incumbent rage in what may mark a turning point in the midterm campaign season. On the Republican side, conservative candidates prevailed, highlighting the possible strength of the Tea Party in this electoral cycle.

Incumbents Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-California), Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) survived the tumultuous primary voting to fight another ballot.

In Arkansas, voters chose Lincoln for the Democratic Senate primary over Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. She will face Rep. John Boozman (R) in November’s general election.

Lincoln, a two-term senator, was pegged as a likely victim of voter anger at veteran politicians. She is seen as one of the deciding votes in the contentious health care reform bill, and in 2008, President Obama fared poorly in Arkansas. Organized labor and progressive activists spent $65 million supporting her opponent, their preferred candidate, but despite this. she won the primary, dubbing herself “Arkansas’s new comeback kid.” The nickname was borrowed from Bill Clinton, who helped campaigned for Lincoln’s primary seat.

Senator Boxer will face Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard and winner of the Republican Senate primary in California, in November. Fiorina is reported to have spent millions of her own money for the seat, and was endorsed by Tea Party figurehead Sarah Palin.

The winners of the gubernatorial primary in California were Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay for the GOP, and Attorney General Jerry Brown for the Democrats. This may be the most expensive governor’s race in California history, according to Lynn Vavreck, director of the University of California-Los Angeles’s Center for the Study of Campaigns, in which the combined spending of the two candidates is expected to top $100 million.

Voters in California also approved Proposition 14, which would replace the traditional partisan primaries in legislative races with candidates for an office running on a single ballot, regardless of party affiliation. The main two vote-getters would then advance to the general election. Washington State already has a similar system.

Democratic voters in Nevada chose incumbent Senate Majority Leader Reid, who will face former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle, winner of the Republican Senate primary, in November. Angle was backed by the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth, which together spent about $1 million on her candidacy. Reid, however, has $9 million in the bank and is expected to raise close to $25 million to keep his seat.

In other states, the incumbent candidates were not so lucky.

The incumbent House Republican in South Carolina, Bob Inglis, has been forced into a runoff election with county solicitor Trey Gowdy to keep his seat. Inglis has been pegged by The New York Times as providing evidence that anger against incumbents applies to both parties heading into the November election. Inglis’s record of support for the unpopular financial bailout and vote against the Iraq troop surge could make him the third House incumbent (and second Republican) to fall this year.

In South Carolina’s gubernatorial primary, Indian-American Republican state Rep. Nikki Haley could be the first woman and first racial minority elected governor if she beats Rep. J. Gresham Barrett in the June 22 runoff. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen won the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

In Virginia, Keith Fimian has won the GOP nomination for the House, while Rep.Rob Whitman won the First District, Robert Hurt won the Fifth and Scott Rigell the Second District.

South Dakota voters chose Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard for the Republican nomination for governer. Daugaard will face Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepriem, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

The former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad won the Republican gubernatorial primary, and will face Gov. Chet Culver (D) in November.

According to the latest Gallup Poll, only a third of registered voters would vote for a candidate who already served in Congress, and a recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll found much the same sentiment. If Senator Lincoln does not win the race for Arkansas’s Senate seat, she would be the third Senate incumbent defeated this year, along with Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Sen. Arlen Specter (D – Pennsylvania).

“You are seeing it on the Republican side; you’re seeing it on the Democratic side. The reality is, regardless of what party you are in, if you’re an incumbent and it looks like the Washington establishment is backing you, you’re in trouble. It’s the wrong place to be this year,” Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist, told The New York Times. “Both parties are having civil wars with their Washington establishments.”