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Voters back anti-D.C., anti-establishment candidates

 

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With the electorate's intense anger reverberating across the country, this is all but certain: It's an anti- Washington, anti-establishment year. And candidates with ties to either better beware.

Any doubt about just how toxic the political environment is for congressional incumbents and candidates hand-picked by national Republican and Democratic leaders disappeared late Tuesday, when voters fired Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, fo rc e d Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln into a run-off in Arkansas and chose tea party darling Rand Paul to be the GOP nominee in Kentucky's Senate race.

"People just aren't very happy," Ira Robbins, 61, said in Allentown, Pa.

With anyone linked to power, it seems.

Taken together, the outcomes of primaries in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky — following voter rejections of GOP Sen.

Bob Bennett of Utah and Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan in West Virginia — provided further evidence that voters are in the mood to choose outsiders over insiders.

Future implications could be huge. Candidates like Paul and Rep. Joe Sestak, who defeated White House-backed Specter, owe little or nothing to their parties. Coalition building, already a lost art in Capitol Hill, could become tougher if more candidates come to Washington as insurgent free agents. Big-monied special interest groups could recruit and fund candidates, the domain of a strong Democratic and Republican parties.

"It's not healthy for democracy," said GOP consultant Ben Ginsberg, an attorney and leader of the Republican establishment in Washington. "But it is what it's becoming."

An exception to the antiestablishment trend was the race to fill a vacant House seat in a conservat ive- leaning Pennsylvania congressional district; voters elected the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha's one-time aide, Mark Critz, over Republican businessman Tim Burns. Oregon also held its primary; there were no surprises.

Perhaps indicating that voters were expressing their frustrations at the ballot box, turnout appeared to be up in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky from the most recent previous statewide primary elections.

The tone for the party-nominating season was set on the busiest primary night of the year and as more contests loomed large, particularly among Republicans. But it's difficult to say whether this early season trend will hold true during the general election; much could change between now and November, especially given the uncertainty of economic recovery after the worst recession in generations and an unemployment rate hovering at 10 percent.

Tuesday's primaries came a little less than five months before the midterm elections.

Pres ident Barack Obama backed incumbents in his party's races, but despite the stakes for his legislative agenda the White House insisted he was not following the results very closely.

He had worked to elect both Specter and Lincoln, and the outcomes stoked questions about the scope of his clout.

 
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