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Sen. Arlen Specter loses Pennsylvania primary; Rand Paul wins in Kentucky

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The Washington Post's Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza give their analysis of the primary elections that sent incumbents packing and has rattled the establishment.

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Sestak, a Navy veteran, refused to follow the script. He mounted a long-shot challenge, highlighting his military service and casting himself as an outsider against the insider Specter. His campaign gained altitude after he aired a devastating ad that cast the incumbent as an ally of former president George W. Bush and as a politician motivated more by self-interest than the public interest. The ad quoted Specter as saying his party switch "will enable me to be reelected."

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Sestak will face Republican Patrick Toomey, who won nomination easily, in a November race that will present a clear contrast for voters and is likely to be closely fought.

Paul's victory in Kentucky marked the second time in two weeks that tea party activists flexed their muscles in the Republican Party. On May 8, Sen. Robert F. Bennett (Utah) was defeated in his bid for renomination at a party convention after being targeted by tea party supporters because of his vote to bail out big banks and financial firms.

Paul started as a long-shot candidate, but he successfully tapped the fundraising network of his father, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 as a libertarian conservative and attracted a passionate following but won no primaries. By Tuesday, Paul was the clear favorite.

In Kentucky's Democratic Senate primary, Attorney General Jack Conway defeated Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo in a close contest.

A crucial district

The House election in western Pennsylvania ultimately may hold the most meaning for November, when the Democratic majority will be at risk. The district was the only one in the nation that supported Democrat John F. Kerry for president in 2004 and then backed Republican John McCain in 2008.

Voters there elected Murtha to 18 terms, and he was legendary for returning federal money to this economically hard-pressed region. Republican Burns sought to nationalize the contest, campaigning against Washington and the Democratic agenda. But Democrat Critz said he too opposed the new health-care law and presented himself as a foe of abortion and a backer of gun rights.

In Arkansas, the Democratic primary battle between Lincoln and Halter was in many ways a proxy war between organized labor and the White House. Obama endorsed Lincoln and appeared in ads for her. But unions spent millions on television and radio ads -- not to mention an extensive field program -- to oust the incumbent, whom they believe has been insufficiently loyal on issues such as health care and the Employee Free Choice Act.

On the Republican side in the state, Rep. John Boozman avoided a runoff in a crowded GOP field.

In Oregon, the fourth state with primary contests on Tuesday, former governor John Kitzhaber (D) won nomination for a comeback attempt, while former professional basketball player and political novice Chris Dudley was leading in the Republican gubernatorial primary.


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