This post will be updated later, obviously.
Just four states go to the polls Tuesday, but together they cast a long shadow.
It’s the biggest single-day primary so far in 2010, and the outcomes in a handful of key races will provide the clearest indication yet of the depth and intensity of the anti-incumbent fever that is shaping the midterm elections.
The most closely watched battles will be in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter is in serious danger of losing the seat he has held for three decades to two-term Rep. Joe Sestak, and in Arkansas, where Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln is seeking to fend off Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
Kentucky’s GOP Senate race is expected to provide a measure of grassroots conservative populist strength — not to mention anti-establishment sentiment — with party favorite Secretary of State Trey Grayson playing the unexpected role of underdog in his matchup against tea party-backed physician Rand Paul.
The western Pennsylvania-based special election for the seat of the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha, meanwhile, will provide a crucial barometer of the popularity of President Barack Obama’s ambitious Democratic agenda.
And that’s not all. The primary-day agenda also includes a slate of notable House primaries in Pennsylvania, while in Arkansas, where three of the state’s four congressmen are not seeking reelection, voters will select nominees in three open-seat races.
When it comes to politics, the media always prefer a big meta- story that includes controversy, consequences, and implications. It’s so much easier on the headline writers. So for Tuesday’s primaries, they’d like to see any of the following stories: “Unions Assert Muscle.” Or “Incumbents Thrown Overboard.” Or perhaps “Tea Party Wins Big,” and even “Obama Rebuked.”
It’s more likely to be some murkier mix. But even before the results are in, some trends and lessons are clearly evident.
• “I can win” is not a good message. Neither is “He can win.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter did something unheard of for a politician. He told the truth. He admitted the obvious when he switched parties. He didn’t say the party had left him. He didn’t say it was a matter of principle. He said the polls suggested he was more likely to get reelected if he became a Democrat. So he did. You could hear the subsequent collective groan from the political-consultant community. Specter may as well have printed bumper stickers that said, “It’s not about you. It’s about me.”
And then Team Obama did the same thing by endorsing Specter with a “He can win” strategy and message. Threw principle out the window because they thought Specter had a better shot to beat the Republican nominee Pat Toomey.
But now it appears Specter may be upset in the primary by Rep. Joe Sestak. Oops. Good chance Specter will pay the price for making the race about his hopes rather than the voters’.
A quick report from the field in Pennsylvania.
Voter turnout is light in virtually all parts of the state, particularly in Philadelphia, the office of the Secretary of State confirms, developments that are likely to favor Joe Sestak.
Arlen Specter needs high turnout because his supporters are thought to be less enthusiastic, while Sestak’s are more motivated. Specter particularly is counting on high turnout in Philly.
But Charlie Young, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, says turnout in the state, where the weather is bad today, is low.
“It’s relatively light, with some higher concentrations out in the areas that have the special election for Murtha’s seat,” he says, referring to the battle for Pennsylvania’s 12th district in the southwestern part of the state.
Philadelphia’s turnout, he says, is even lighter. “There are no lines anywhere,” he says.
This is born out by an official with a major union backing Specter, who says union hands doing get-out-the-vote work are reporting back that “turnout is abysmal.”
“People aren’t fired up about Specter,” the official conceded. “It’s low statewide, and then in Philly it especially sucks.”
Democrats and Republicans say their early canvassing returns in Pennsylvania’s 12th CD show a very tight race, and that makes Republicans more anxious than Democrats. Democrats say they’re hitting their targets.
And they’re still sending out memos pointing to Republicans who say that the race ought to be a GOP win — something the Democrats would NOT do if they weren’t seeing the numbers. Remember, both parties have sophisticated boiler room operations and have volunteers checking voter lists in sample precincts … and they feed this data into a computer and out pops various projections of turnout.
Across Pennsylvania, it’s raining. Turnout, according to Democrats, is “abysmal” in Philadelphia, which is difficult news for Sen. Arlen Specter. Right now, Mayor Michael Nutter and Governor Ed Rendell are doing the TV/Radio rounds to try and open the floodgates.
At this point, both sides believe that Blanche Lincoln won’t have enough votes to avoid a run-off in Arkansas. The AP seems to be doing a better job of finding Bill Halter voters to quote, but that could be a function of their activist disposition. Lincoln has historically had a good, if understated ground game. But labor has imported a massive one.
No one is seeing anything in Kentucky that would change minds about the expected outcome on the Republican side of the ledger.
Adam Sorensen at Swampland at Time:
As you probably know, Trey Grayson is running for Senate in Kentucky. What you might not know is that “Trey” isn’t actually his name. It’s just a handle given to the third in a line of Charles Merwin Graysons. Far from frowning on pseudonymous politicians, the Bluegrass State allows candidates to designate a nickname to run on the official ballot.
Our colleague Feifei Sun points me in the direction of the down-ballot candidate rolls and the fabulous treasure trove of monikers therein. The nicknames run the gamut from zoological — Dale “Frog” Ford for sheriff, Steve “Farm Dog” Farmer for magistrate, William “Turkey” Thomason for mayor and Shawn “Squid” Rye for county commissioner — to culinary — Jerry “Peanuts” Gaines for sheriff, TP “Puddin” Scott for magistrate, Eddie “Popcorn” Brown for constable and Jeff “Buttermilk” Mountjoy for jailer — and the outright bizarre — John “Hermanator” Kirk for sheriff, Ancel “Hard Rock” Smith for assemblyman and, perhaps tragically, Mike “Need Kidney” Sittason for surveyor.
UPDATE #2: Sestak wins. Allah Pundit
UPDATE #3: Jonathan Martin & Charles Mahtesian in Politico
John McCormack at The Weekly Standard
UPDATE #4: Nate Silver
Michael Barone at The Washington Examiner