Progressive Democrats won a significant victory over the Democratic establishment in today's primary elections.
Congressman Joe Sestak ousted Arlen Specter, with about 52% to Specter's 48%. Sestak won despite Specter holding every structural advantage: incumbency, backing of the president, backing of the governor, backing of the state party, and more money. Progressives sent a strong message that they want real Democrats in Congress.
That message was repeated in Arkansas where Bill Halter has forced a runoff against incumbent Blanche Lincoln, despite the backing of the president. In thirty days Lincoln will face Halter after Lincoln received about 43.6%, Halter 42.8%, and Morrison took 13.7%. Morrison will be excluded from the runoff, meaning that his supporters will be converted into "undecided" voters. Conventional wisdom is that undecided voters nearly always turn to the challenger when the incumbent is below 50%, and Lincoln is well below 50%.
Elsewhere, Democrats held onto John Murtha's Pennsylvania U.S. House seat. Republicans had hoped to take this seat away in socially conservative western Pennsylvania and the contest was viewed by some in the mainstream media as a bellwether: a Democratic loss in this district would have been hailed by some as the harbinger of a Democratic wipeout in November. There was no sign of such a wipeout, as Democrat Mark Critz topped Republican Tim Burns by about 9%--a thoroughly convincing Democratic win. So no bellwether for you, my Republican friends.
In Kentucky, Tea Party champion Rand Paul trounced his Republican establishment opponent Trey Grayson. This means that Kentucky Republicans are now stuck with a candidate that is badly outside the mainstream and will have to face a Democrat, Jack Conway, who is far more moderate and mainstream in Kentucky politics. Rand Paul may have charmed the Republican base in Kentucky, but it remains to be seen whether he can persuade independent and undecided center voters. Kentucky just became a tossup race.
All in all, today was a major victory for Progressive Democrats, who showed that they can stand up and assert themselves against their party's establishment by winning contested nominations while showing that the sky won't fall in and that we can still rally behind the Democratic banner when we unite to face Republicans in contested general elections. A key point, as Lowell noted earlier, is that Democratic turnout statewide was substantially higher in both Kentucky and Pennsylvania, meaning that Democratic senate candidates in those states start with the advantage of having a larger base of partisan support.