Is Blanche Lincoln finished? Will Specter be the Senate wild card? Can Rand Paul win?

Jon Ward Contributor
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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.”

Whether Obama will campaign with Sestak is another question. One Democratic insider surmised that Sestak will have to ask the president to do so. And the Sestak campaign telegraphed nothing but love for the Obama administration on Wednesday.

Sestak, spokesman Jonathan Dworkin told Fox News, “wants to be President Obama’s strongest ally in the Senate.”

Dworkin said Sestak “has said all he has to say about” the allegation that the administration offered him a job to keep him out of the primary.

A senior Republican congressman wasn’t about to let the issue drop. Kurt Bardella, a spokeswoman for Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, said it would be “incredibly disingenuous and reek of political payback” if Sestak accepted support from the Obama administration.

Sestak, Bardella said, would be “knowingly protecting the very White House that tried to bribe him.”

The Justice Department continued to insist they will not comment on whether they have opened an investigation into Sestak’s allegations or not. Earlier this month Attorney General Eric Holder stonewalled Issa, who is ranking member on the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, and a Justice spokesman Wednesday told the Daily Caller that Holder’s non-answers remains their comment.

Rand Paul did not get off to a good start on his first day as the Republican nominee for Kentucky’s senate seat, explaining that Tiger Woods has made holding victory rallies at country clubs a no-longer-exclusive event.

“People used to think of golf and golf courses and golf clubs as being exclusive,” Paul said. “But I think in recent years now you see a lot of people playing golf. I think Tiger Woods has helped to broaden that in the sense that he’s brought golf to a lot of the cities and to city youth. So now I don’t think it’s nearly as exclusive as people once considered it to be.”

But after a day of withering attacks from national Democrats and almost zero defense from national Republicans, Paul hit back at the end of the day in an appearance on CNN.

“You know what’s kind of funny is that what I think is an extreme idea is a $2 trillion deficit,” Paul said. “You know, the debt is spiraling out of control and I’m proposing things like a balanced budget and they think that’s an extreme idea? What I tell to the national Democrats is bring it on and please, please, please bring President Obama to Kentucky.”

Yet late in the day Wednesday, Paul indicated to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that while he is against racism and discrimination, he does not think the federal government should be the one to tell private businesses that they cannot discriminate based on race.

Maddow: Do you think that a private business has a right to say that ‘We don’t serve black people?’

Paul: I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But do discriminate.

But I think what’s important in this debate is not getting into any specific gotcha on this, but asking the question ‘What about freedom of speech?’ Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent. Should we limit racists from speaking. I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things that freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it…

Maddow: … How about desegregating lunch counters?

Paul: Well what it gets into then is if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the owner of the restaurant says ‘well no, we don’t want to have guns in here’ the bar says ‘we don’t want to have guns in here because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each-other.’ Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion…

The day’s political combat, and Paul’s mixed response, put on display the variables that will determine whether the Tea Party movement’s favorite candidate can win over Democrats in a state where there are 1.6 million Democrats and 1 million Republicans.

Recent polls before Tuesday’s primary had shown Paul with an edge over Democrat Jack Conway that averaged about four points.

Yet a Rasmussen Reports poll out Thursday morning showed Paul with a 59 percent to 34 percent lead over Conway, up from 47 to 38 percent a month ago.

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