Tuesday could mark a turning point in the midterm campaign season as two incumbents avoided going down in defeat despite facing a still-simmering electorate.
On the Republican side, conservative candidates prevailed, showing the Tea Party’s strength in this election cycle.
Only a third of registered voters would favor a candidate who has already served in Congress, according to the latest Gallup Poll, which underscored the lingering anti-incumbent mood.
But Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) was able to deflect voters’ anger, defy Washington’s expectations and defeat challenger Bill Halter in Tuesday’s Arkansas runoff.
She quickly dubbed herself “Arkansas's new comeback kid,” borrowing the nickname of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBusiness coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE, who campaigned for her in the lead-up to the vote.
"Tonight, we proved that this senator's vote is not for sale and neither is yours," Lincoln said Tuesday night. "We took on the outside groups seeking to manipulate our votes.”
She was referring to organized labor and progressive activists, who suffered a big loss Tuesday along with Halter. They had spent almost $65 million in their attempt to get him elected.
Their influence, and maybe even their energy, is likely to diminish as a result of Lincoln’s narrow win.
Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) was another endangered incumbent who survived Tuesday’s ballot. He managed to force a runoff for South Carolina's 4th House district nomination.
Inglis’s survival — even though he finished second to Spartanburg and Cherokee County Solicitor Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R) — came despite making several votes that were out of step with his district. He voted against the Iraq troop surge, and supported the widely unpopular financial bailout. His opponents branded him as being not conservative enough for the heavily Republican district.
He’ll be on the ballot again in a few short weeks — June 22 — but he may give other members encouragement to campaign harder ahead of their own primaries.
Reaction to the results in Nevada’s Senate primary indicates that strategists still view this as a bad year to be an incumbent.
As it became clear the Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle would be the GOP nominee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) issued a memo with the subject line, “Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE In His Own Words.” It was a clear indication the committee plans to make this race about the incumbent, and not its challenger.
“Nevadans’ disapproval of Harry Reid’s job in Washington is rivaled only by the overwhelming unpopularity of the massive health spending bill that he rammed through Congress earlier this year,” John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime MORE (Texas), the NRSC chairman, said in a statement. “This massive new unfunded mandate is expected to cost Nevada $575 million over the next 10 years alone.”
Angle topped the crowded GOP field, beating out former state Sen. Sue Lowden and Las Vegas businessman Danny Tarkanian. Angle was backed by the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth, which spent about $1 million combined supporting her candidacy or attacking Lowden, the establishment favorite to win the race. Lowden was backed by the Susan B. Anthony List and other social conservative groups. The SBA announced Wednesday morning it would back Angle going forward.
She’ll need significant financial support. Reid, the senate majority leader, has $9 million banked and is expecting to raise close to $25 million for his reelection bid.
Angle's first post-election tweet was an appeal for money.
She tweeted: "Thank you, Nevada! We're one step closer to taking our country back. We can't stop now — please donate now at http://sharronangle.com."
One of the attractions of Lowden’s candidacy was that she was personally wealthy and considered a better fundraiser than the rest of the GOP field. Lowden, however, proved less reliable in other areas.
Her campaign unraveled after she claimed that bartering was an effective way to lower the cost of healthcare. In an interview with a Nevada public affairs program, she said that chickens were once used to pay doctors. The remarks, which she later defended, were dubbed “chickens for checkups” by the Democrats. She also ran into trouble when it turned out that her campaign RV was an unauthorized gift from a supporter.
As Lowden’s campaign imploded, she tried to raise questions about Angle’s ties to the Church of Scientology and her work at a one-room Christian school, but she couldn’t bring down her surging rival.
Meanwhile, two women won their respective Republican nominations in California, setting the stage for costly general-election battles.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina won the California Republican Senate primary and will face Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFormer California senator prods Feinstein to consider retirement Trump decries 'defund the police' after Boxer attacked Former Sen. Barbara Boxer attacked in California MORE (D-Calif.).
Fiorina spent millions of her own money on the race and was endorsed by Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin.
“For 34 years, at the taxpayer’s expense, Barbara Boxer has been a bitter partisan who has said much but achieved little,” Fiorina said in a statement. “She gets an 'A' for politics and an 'F' for achievement. This fall, she will have to answer to the people of California for her failure to stand up for our state.”
Boxer's campaign tweeted shortly after the race was called: "AP has called the race for Fiorina. OK — let's go win this thing."
Democratic strategists are confident Boxer will be able to defend her seat, but Fiorina’s personal fortune will come in handy in California’s expensive media market. President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Obama backs Trudeau in Canadian election Former Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal MORE has been to the state twice to fundraise for Boxer, and observers will be watching to see if he returns.
Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R) won California's GOP gubernatorial nomination, defeating state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. She had the support of prominent conservatives like former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The combined spending between the two candidates topped $100 million by most estimates. Whitman reportedly spent close to $70 million from her own fortune, while Poizner cut himself checks for close to $24 million.
"It's not only the most expensive statewide primary, it exceeds statewide races in their entirety," said Lynn Vavreck, director of the University of California-Los Angeles's Center for the Study of Campaigns.
This will be the most expensive governor's race in California history, she added.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown won the Democratic nomination with 83 percent of the vote. He had more than $20 million banked ahead of Tuesday's primary.
And, finally, Tea Party activists pushed state Rep. Nikki Haley ahead of three rivals in the Republican gubernatorial race in South Carolina. But she didn’t pass the 50 percent margin, and will face Rep. Gresham Barrett in a June 22 runoff.
The race gained national attention when conservative blogger Will Folks claimed he had an affair with Haley, as did a Republican consultant working for Republican rival Andre Bauer's campaign.
Haley vehemently denied both allegations.
She was boosted by the endorsement of Palin, who flew to South Carolina to campaign with her. Jenny Sanford, the wife of retiring Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), also endorsed Haley.
— Michael O'Brien contributed to this article.