Lawmakers may have little time for anything but election news Tuesday.
It’s the new Super Tuesday, with races likely to tell incumbents whether voters will be heading toward November thirsty for congressional blood.
It is widely agreed that voters are angry with Washington. Now, after the crushing ouster this month of two incumbents — one Democrat and one Republican — two more senators will learn their fates.
Both parties fear a whirlwind of public dissatisfaction building toward the 2010 midterms. Early indications suggest voters are in an unforgiving mood.
This month three-term incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), a 14-term veteran, lost their parties’ nominations to upstart challengers — and they may just be the first casualties of May.
Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who chairs the Agriculture Committee, and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), a five-term incumbent, could also lose their jobs as a result of Tuesday’s vote. In Kentucky, the GOP Senate primary tests the influence of the party establishment. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellManchin backs raising debt ceiling with reconciliation if GOP balks Biden needs to be both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside Billionaire tax gains momentum MORE (R-Ky.) is backing Trey Grayson against the Tea Party-supported Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulIt's time for Fauci to go — but don't expect it to happen On The Money — Democrats craft billionaire tax with deal in reach Rand Paul questioning if crypto could become world reserve currency MORE.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania will host the only direct clash between the parties. Observers expect Tuesday’s hard-fought special election to fill the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) seat to foreshadow the outcome of midterm elections. Democratic strategists are confident that if they can hold the district, where President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day RNC targets McAuliffe, Biden campaign event with mobile billboard The real reason Biden is going to the COP26 climate summit MORE is widely disliked, they’ll be able to hang on to their majority in November. Polls show the race is a toss-up.
Prestige is also on the line. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) hosted a Washington fundraiser in April for Pennsylvania House candidate Mark Critz (D) — a favor she did not extend to either Democrat competing in the Hawaii special election, which concludes Saturday.
House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) has invested himself in the Pennsylvania race, hosting a Washington fundraiser for Republican candidate Tim Burns. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) also campaigned for Burns, while Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day Business lobby calls for administration to 'pump the brakes' on vaccine mandate Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Afghanistan reckoning shows no signs of stopping MORE helped Critz raise money in Pittsburgh last month.
Both House campaign committees have invested heavily in the special-election race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent close to $1 million in the 12th district, a figure closely matched by their GOP counterpart.
Congressional leaders are anxiously watching to see whether Lincoln makes it through her primary with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D). Lincoln received chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee late last year after Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa) moved to the helm of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). The move was expected to help her with her reelection bid; agriculture is a $15 billion industry in the Natural State, making up roughly 20 percent of its economy.
But voters are in no mood to be placated by a member’s ability to bring in federal dollars. Bennett made a similar pitch in Utah before going down to defeat at his party’s convention in Salt Lake City May 8.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid calls on Democrats to plow forward on immigration Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada The Memo: Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt MORE (Nev.), who has delivered millions in federal spending to Nevada, will surely be hanging on the outcome of Lincoln’s race. He’s expected to face a tough campaign against likely GOP nominee Sue Lowden.
Lincoln or Halter needs to break 50 percent of the vote to clinch the nomination; otherwise, they will face each other in a June 22 runoff. It’s not possible for either to pivot and run as an independent if they lose, according to election officials. Neither Specter nor his opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), would have the independent option either, according to Pennsylvania officials.
The White House political operation could face criticism after Tuesday’s vote. It failed to lure Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary after Specter switched parties, despite reportedly offering him a job in exchange. And in Arkansas, it wasn’t able to convince its union allies to back away from supporting Halter’s challenge to Lincoln.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to say what the results might mean for the Obama administration before voters go to the polls.
But Gibbs did acknowledge the anti-incumbent environment, pointing to Bennett’s recent loss and other election results.
“Obviously, I don’t think it’s breaking news to say that this has been — based on the election results that we do know, it’s been a tough year for incumbents,” Gibbs said. “Everyone noticed that a senator from Utah reelected just six years ago with 70 percent of the vote got a quarter of the convention vote to be re-nominated.”
Gibbs said Obama has not been following the campaigns closely, but he that the president has done “quite a bit” for Specter and Lincoln even though Obama has not hit the trail for either in recent weeks.
“I think everyone knows that we’ve supported who we support in those two races,” Gibbs said. “Again, we have supported incumbent Democratic senators. And we’ve done a lot on behalf of each campaign. Again, there are races all over the country that we’ll have a chance to look at from the Democratic and the Republican side as to what it means.”
It seems telling that Obama chose to avoid making a last-ditch weekend trip to Pennsylvania in support of Specter, as he did for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine last November and Massachusetts Senate nominee Martha Coakley (D) in January, who both lost their races. Instead, Obama played golf on Saturday and basketball on Sunday, according to pool reports.
As voters head to the polls Tuesday, the president will travel to Ohio for another “Main Street tour” event.
Sam Youngman contributed to this article.