SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
On Tuesday, Democrats ended the 30-year Senate career of Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and pushed Senator Blanche Lincoln into a runoff in Arkansas. In Kentucky, the Republican establishment took it on the chin as a candidate backed by Tea Party activists won the Senate primary there. And in a congressional district in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Democrats retained the seat long held by the late John Murtha.
So what message came out of all these results on Tuesday? It's anti-incumbency, anti-establishment. NPR's political editor Ken Rudin joins us. Thanks very much for being with us, Ken.
KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: Let's begin with Pennsylvania. Arlen Specter, long-time Republican senator, became a Democrat last year, loses his first Democratic primary.
RUDIN: Well, the irony is that the reason Arlen Specter left the Republican Party was that he could not with a Republican primary. Here he is moving over the Democrats, gets the endorsement of President Obama, Governor Ed Rendell, the labor unions, the entire Democratic establishment of Pennsylvania.
But Joe Sestak, in a TV commercial, a widely viewed TV commercial, reminded all these Democratic voters that Arlen Specter voted for Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito, he was endorsed, wholeheartedly endorsed by President Bush six years ago when he was still a Republican. So it's one thing to introduce yourself to a new party. Joe Sestak was very clever in reminding these Democrats about Arlen Specter's Republican past.
SIMON: But let me ask you about the congressional seat that belonged to John Murtha for many years, which they held on to. Democrats retained that seat, but with a candidate who is kind of against everything that national Democrats are supposed to be in favor of.
RUDIN: Mark Critz, the victorious Democrat - he opposed the health care bill, he's anti-abortion, he's pro-guns, pretty conservative. But he knew that in that district, southwestern Pennsylvania, President Obama is not popular, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not popular. And what Democrat Critz did very cleverly, while the Republicans, Tim Burns and the rest of the Republicans tried to paint him as a creature of Washington, Mark Critz cleverly reminded everybody that the real issue was not Washington, D.C. but Washington, Pennsylvania, a small town in the district.
In other words, while the Republicans tried to make this a national election, Critz reminded everybody that what John Murtha did for 36 years is what he intends to do as well, and that is continue the constituent service that Murtha was so famous for.
SIMON: And Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas is going to have to go through a second round to become the candidate, right?
RUDIN: This is another example of the grassroots in Arkansas not happy with Blanche Lincoln. They felt that she was too much of a centrist. Often they called her a Democrat in name only - we always talk about Republicans in name only. And Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter got the support of the labor unions, got the support of the liberal netroots groups like MoveOn, and basically painted her as a Republican in disguise. Neither candidate got 50 percent of the vote. They move to a June 8 runoff. Which means the Republican candidate, Congressman John Boozman, can sit back and hold on to his money and watch these two Democrats battle it out for three more weeks. Not good news from the Democratic Party and not good news for Blanche Lincoln.
SIMON: Ken, with respect for what you do for a living, do pundits make a mistake in trying to find one overall theme to fit the results?
RUDIN: I think they do, and we saw this in the special election in Massachusetts back in January when Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley. Everybody said, oh, the Democrats are through and they're finished for 2010. Then when the Democrats hold on to Jack Murtha's seat in Pennsylvania, they said, oh no, it's great news for the Democrats. Later today in Hawaii there's a special congressional election that the Democrats may lose after several decades of holding on to. And they could say, well, maybe the Republicans are on a comeback.
Ultimately, these are - as somebody once said, all politics is local, but we seem to have this need to make this big overarching definitive analysis of what really happened when ultimately it can change from week to week and even day to day.
SIMON: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor. You can read his blog, Political Junkie, at NPR.org/Junkie. Thank you, Ken.
RUDIN: Thanks, Scott.
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