Reporting from San Francisco and Las Vegas — Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln edged past her labor-backed Democratic rival Tuesday, withstanding an anti-incumbent tide that swept out Nevada's governor and nearly swamped a veteran Republican congressman in South Carolina.
In Nevada, Republicans chose Sharron Angle, a favorite of the "tea party" movement, to face Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November, giving the embattled Democrat his preferred opponent. Addressing supporters in Las Vegas, an exuberant Angle mocked Reid for depicting himself as "too big to fail."
"We want to say to Harry Reid, 'You have failed and you are fired,' " Angle said to the crowd at the Orleans Hotel, which greeted her with the chant, "Dump Harry Reid!"
Democrats responded with a statement moments after Angle's victory was clear, calling her "wacky" and enumerating some of her unorthodox positions, including support for bringing the nation's nuclear waste to Nevada — a proposal state lawmakers have fought for decades.
The Republican primary for governor was not even close: incumbent Jim Gibbons was crushed by former federal judge Brian Sandoval, becoming the first governor in Nevada's history to lose a primary. Sandoval will face Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, the senator's son, in November.
"He's got a lot of baggage," said Bill Ware, 65, referring to Gibbons' messy divorce and accusations by a cocktail waitress that he tried to assault her. "I think he's a worm," Ware's wife, Joanne, 64, said as the retired couple cast their ballots in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb. "That kind of behavior does not belong in government."
In Tuesday's biggest surprise, Lincoln — who many political insiders had given up for dead — defeated Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, 52% to 48%.
"The vote of this senator is not for sale and neither is the vote of the people of Arkansas," Lincoln said to a thunderous ovation at a victory rally in Little Rock. She was referring to the millions that interest groups spent trying to defeat her.
In South Carolina, Republican Rep. Bob Inglis finished far behind Spartanburg County prosecutor Trey Gowdy, who will face the six-term congressman in a second round of balloting June 22. Gowdy made Inglis' support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a $700-billion rescue of the financial sector under President George W. Bush, a major part of his campaign.
South Carolina voters were also choosing nominees to succeed Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, whose career imploded last year amid a sex scandal. The front-runner, Republican state Rep. Nikki Haley, overcame recent allegations of marital infidelity and fell just shy of the 50% needed to win nomination outright.
Another tea party favorite, she will face Rep. J. Gresham Barrett in a runoff in two weeks. Haley, a married mother of two, vowed to step down if elected and it was proved she committed adultery.
In Iowa, former GOP Gov. Terry Branstad took the first step in his attempted comeback after 12 years out of office, winning the nomination to face embattled Democratic Gov. Chet Culver. Branstad hoped to join California's Jerry Brown and Oregon's John Kitzhaber, both Democrats, in the ranks of ex-governors reclaiming their old offices.
In all, voters in nearly a dozen states went to the polls Tuesday, selecting nominees in races for governor, U.S. Senate and nearly 100 House races. The mood was angry — a toxic brew of uncertainty over the economy, frustration with Washington's ceaseless political bickering and, lately, horror at the devastation in the oil-fouled gulf.
In Arkansas, Lincoln just barely avoided the fate of Sens. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who last month lost their reelection bids. It has been 30 years since three or more sitting senators were defeated in the primary season.
Lincoln, a relative moderate, heads the Senate Agriculture Committee — a boon for her heavily rural state. But she spent much of the campaign on the defensive, as organized labor and other left-leaning interest groups spent millions of dollars attacking her; union leaders were unhappy with Lincoln's vote against final passage of President Obama's healthcare bill, and especially her failure to support legislation making it easier to organize workers.
Lincoln, however, enjoyed the support of Obama and, perhaps more important, former President Clinton, a native Arkansan, who paid a high-profile visit late in the campaign and accused unions of trying to manipulate voters "to terrify members of Congress" into doing their bidding. Lincoln faces an uphill fight against Rep. John Boozman, the GOP Senate nominee.
In Nevada, 12 Republicans lined up for the opportunity to face Reid, who has never been very popular. There were three main contenders: Angle; Sue Lowden, a former state legislator and casino owner; and businessman Danny Tarkanian, the son of legendary college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.