Tuesday’s primary elections raised more questions than they answered: Can Blanche Lincoln win her run-off or is she finished? How will Arlen Specter vote for the next several months? Will Joe Sestak “forget” about his charge that he White House tried to bribe him? Can Rand Paul win a general election?
Here are some answers:
It doesn’t look good for Lincoln, the incumbent Democratic senator from Arkansas. A Research 2000 poll showed challenger Lt. Gov. Bill Halter ahead of her by 48 to 46 percent. And Lincoln’s proposal on derivatives trading that was going to be included in the financial regulation bill has been discarded, and then put back in again, only reinforcing the perception that the proposal is more politically motivated than anything.
Political experts in Arkansas, however, said the race was more about fundamentals and less about financial legislation. Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said regulatory reform is “inside baseball for most of us Arkansas voters.”
Voters, Greenberg said, “will go by the general impression the senator has made, and to judge by the election results, it is not an overwhelmingly favorable one.” Indeed, the Research 2000 poll showed that 46 percent of voters think Lincoln is on the side of Wall Street, while 42 percent think she is on the voters’ side.
However, Halter’s campaign funds are “nearly exhausted,” said Michael Sherrard, of the liberal group MoveOn.org, which has been helping the challenger take on Lincoln from the left. MoveOn is trying to raise $200,000 in “emergency funds.”
Lincoln has until the June 8 runoff to make headway with her state’s electorate.
As for Specter, he’s now a wild card in the Senate, free to vote as he wants. He spent most of his career in the Senate as a Republican, and is notoriously pugnacious. This might come into play is with the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court.
Specter, wrote Curt Levey of the conservative legal group Committee for Justice, was “Kagan’s harshest critic when her nomination for Solicitor General was before the U.S. Senate last year.”
“With Specter no longer facing the constraints of seeking reelection, the former prosecutor is free to go out in a blaze of glory by sticking to principle and demanding that Kagan fill in the many holes in her notoriously thin record,” Levey said.
Specter was not in the Senate Wednesday to vote on financial reform legislation, which was part of the reason that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, fell two votes short of the 60 he needed (Reid voted against it so he can bring it back up again Thursday or Friday). It is assumed that Specter will support the massive bill, but that won’t be a sure thing until he casts his vote.
Vice President Joe Biden, who was key to persuading Specter to switch from Republican to Democrat a year ago, publicly thanked the senator Wednesday for the key votes he had already delivered for Obama.
“I was proud to play a role in his return to the Democratic Party; his votes to pass the Recovery Act and health insurance reform were courageous and critical to our success,” Biden said. “I look forward to working with him during the rest of this year, and remaining in close contact with him after his term in Washington is finished.”
Joe Sestak has an awkward tango to dance with the White House. For the last few months the Democratic congressman has insisted that top Obama administration officials tried to keep him from entering the race for the Pennsylvania Senate seat by bribing him with a top government job, rumored to be secretary of the Navy.
Now, Sestak is the Democratic nominee. And Democrats need to win every Senate race this fall to ensure that they retain control of the upper chamber. So Obama needs him.
President Obama evaded press questions Wednesday and thus did not comment on Sestak, and top aides ignored e-mailed questions. But Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said that Sestak “has also been a supporter of the president’s agenda and has showed that he will be a strong campaigner.”