Primary Elections Launch Rand Paul's Political Career, End Arlen Specter's : The Two-Way An update on yesterday's primaries in Kentucky, Pennstylvania, and Arkansas.
NPR logo Primary Elections Launch Rand Paul's Political Career, End Arlen Specter's

Primary Elections Launch Rand Paul's Political Career, End Arlen Specter's

As NPR's Mara Liasson reported today on Morning Edition, yesterday's primary elections — in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, particularly — were a referendum on the status quo.


In the Keystone State, Sen. Arlen Specter, 80, first elected to the Senate in 1980, as a Republican, lost the Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak, who represents Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District.

Sestak was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, after a 31-year tenure in the United States Navy. He'll face former Republican Rep. Pat Toomey in the general election, come November.

Reporter Thomas Fitzgerald, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter's hometown newspaper, marked "The end of the Specter era."

Something seems off-kilter in Philadelphia, as if a crane had taken the statue of Billy Penn from its place atop City Hall. After five decades as a towering figure in the public life of his city, state, and nation, Sen. Arlen Specter is in the strange position of counting the days until the likely end of his political career.

The front page of the Delaware County Daily Times, published in Sestak's district, has this headline: "Sestak shocks the world as voters dump Specter."

The Daily Times notes how heated and close the campaign became in its final days: "Sestak billed himself as the 'real' Democrat in the race and tried to paint Specter as a 'flight risk' and a political opportunist who switched parties for no other reason than to save his own skin."

The 80-year-old incumbent, nicknamed "Snarlin' Arlen" by some, went after Sestak for failing to pay his employees minimum wage - a claim later shown to be untrue - and attacked Sestak's 31-year Naval career.

But attacking Sestak's military record might have backfired, as groups of veterans denounced the ad. Sestak wasted no time in firing his own salvo at Specter with an ad highlighting Specter's past associations with Republicans like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and George W. Bush.

In Western Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, Democrats retained a seat formerly held by Rep. John Murtha, who passed away earlier this year. His former aide, Mark Critz, defeated Tim Burns, a Republican businessman.

According to the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, the race was hard-fought by both candidates, with plenty of outside interest — and money:

"Along with considerable spending by both Burns and Critz, their respective parties also sent boatloads of cash," Mike Faher reported. "For instance, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent nearly $1 million each on the 12th District race, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports."


In the Bluegrass State, ophthalmologist Rand Paul, the son of Rep. Ron Paul, handily defeated Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the Republican primary there.

The Louisville Courier-Journal didn't mince words: "In one of the most closely watched races in the nation, Paul whipped Secretary of State Trey Grayson."

In his acceptance speech, delivered at the Bowling Green Country Club, Paul gave due deference to the Tea Party Movement, which propelled him to victory:

"I have a message, a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words," Paul said. "We have come to take our government back."

The Bowling Green Daily News notes that Paul, who had never run for elected office before, benefited greatly from his father's long roster of supporters from his bid for the presidency in 2008.


In Arkansas, incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln faced a challenge from the state's lieutenant governor, Bill Halter. Because neither candidate garnered 50 percent of the vote, they will face each other again in a run-off election, scheduled for June 8.