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Tea Party candidate wins Kentucky race, Sen. Specter loses Pennsylvania

Rand Paul, a political novice and Tea Party candidate, won the Republican primary in Kentucky Tuesday night while Senator Arlen Specter, who quit the Republican party to join the Democrats, lost another term bid in Pennsylvania.


AFP - Angry US voters punished establishment candidates Tuesday in Democratic and Republican primary contests full of anti-incumbent omens for November elections to decide control of the Congress.

In Kentucky, Republican voters routed the hand-picked candidate of Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, giving archconservative "Tea Party" darling and anti-Washington firebrand Rand Paul a resounding victory.

"Washington is horribly broken," Paul, an eye-doctor, told cheering supporters after trouncing Kentucky's secretary of state Trey Grayson in one of the insurgent movement's most resounding victories to date.

"We are encountering a day of reckoning, and this movement, this Tea Party movement is a message to Washington that we're unhappy and that we want things done differently," said Paul, whose father, Republican Representative Ron Paul, ran for president in 2008.

In Pennsylvania, US Senator Arlen Specter, a moderate who quit the Republican party to become a Democrat in April 2009, lost his bid for a new term, as Pennsylvania voters flocked to his upstart primary challenger.

President Barack Obama's endorsement and backing from the state and national party establishment failed to pull Specter ahead of Democratic Representative Joe Sestak, a retired vice admiral who rallied core Democratic supporters.

"People want a change," said Sestak, who told an excited crowd of supporters that his victory was "a win for the people over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington."

In Arkansas, Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln appeared to have survived a primary challenge from Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, whom the party's labor union allies support, but not by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff battle.

Pennsylvania voters also dealt a sharp blow to Republican hopes for an easy run in November, choosing the Democratic candidate in what both parties had agreed was a bellwether special election in an up-for-grabs district.

In the fight to succeed the late Democratic representative Jack Murtha, one of his longtime aides, Mark Critz, beat Republican Tim Burns.

Republicans plotting to recapture the House of Representatives have set their sites on roughly 40 districts, like Murtha's, held by Democrats but captured by the Republican candidate in 2004, 2008, or both.

Defeat spelled trouble for Republicans, who have crowed over a series of polls that show their voters are more energized about the November battle for all 435 House seats, 36 of 100 Senate seats, and 37 of 50 governorships.

Obama's ability to reform immigration policy and tackle climate change will depend of the results of the key vote, in which the sitting president's party typically loses seats.

Leaders of both parties hedged their bets in recent days and laid the groundwork to close ranks if upstart candidates thumped establishment choices.

McConnell said over the weekend he hoped for a Republican "unity" summit over the weekend, while Paul did not repeat his campaign's explicit, sharp criticism of the party's leaders in Washington in his victory speech.

Democrats praised Specter -- notably thanking him for his support in passing a massive economic stimulus package in 2009 and a historic health care overhaul this year -- but rallied around Sestak.

Democratic voters proved unwilling to reward Specter for switching parties, which he explicitly acknowledged was an attempt to save his faltering reelection bid, or to forget his previous ties to former president George W. Bush.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who leads his party's efforts to hold their Senate majority, underlined his "tremendous respect" for Specter's three-decade service in the Senate.

 But "Joe Sestak has a compelling life story, and a powerful message of change. He knows what is wrong with Washington, and if elected to the Senate will shake up how business is done in the Capitol," he stressed.

Sestak, who rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat Specter, was all but certain to face Republican former representative Pat Toomey -- who led the newly-anointed Democratic champion in recent polls.

Tuesday's battles come after two powerful long-serving lawmakers, Republican Senator Bob Bennett and Democratic Representative Alan Mollohan, became high-profile casualties of a tide of anti-incumbent mistrust.

Recent national opinion polls have found the US public split on which party should control Congress, but just one in three respondents wants to send their lawmaker back to Washington -- the worst climate for incumbents since 1994.

Democrats face an unusual problem in November: Sweeping victories in 2006 and 2008 gave them control over nearly 50 swing districts that could now tilt the other way, handing Republicans the House.

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