Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania 2010 primaries

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Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010; 9:00 PM

The Post's Ben Pershing was online Tuesday night, May 18 to take your questions about the day's primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania and keeps you up to date as results start to come in from each state.

Get more election results, news and analysis with Post Politics.

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Ben Pershing: Good evening, faithful readers. Just your average Tuesday night, right? Rand Paul won in Ky, the Dem race there is close, results are trickling in from Pa. and Ark., Souder is resigning, Blumenthal is in trouble and the Wizards got the No. 1 pick in the draft! Please rank the preceding items in order of importance. Meanwhile, let's chat.

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Kentucky's numbers: Just saw that the number of people who voted for Conway outstripped the number of people who voted for Paul. The second place Dem also got more votes than Grayson. Do the Democrats actually have a chance in Kentucky?

Ben Pershing: The short answer is yes, Democrats do have a chance in Kentucky.

The long answer is that it's a GOP-leaning state in a GOP-leaning year, but it's possible that Paul won't attract enough Independents and centrist voters to go along with his obviously excited base of supporters. My colleague Perry Bacon wrote a good piece earlier today on Democrats saying that they WANT to face Paul in November because they think he is more beatable than Grayson. True, or just spin? We'll find out soon enough.

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Washington, D.C.: So is it true that I can now officially hope that, since Republicans decided to vote for some far, far, FAR right candidates, moderates will decide to vote for Democrats this November? The whole tea deal thing will ruin the Republican party (at least for this election cycle?)

Ben Pershing: See my last answer re: Ron Paul. Yes, it's possible that conservative Republican candidates will alienate some moderate voters and give Democrats some openings. But here's something for you to worry about, since it sounds like you're a Democrat: midterm elections are all about activists on both the right and left. Moderates often stay home in midterms. So which side's base is more motivated? Right now, nearly all of the evidence -- except for the (still incomplete) Kentucky numbers -- suggests that the Republican base is more fired up to vote than the Democratic base is.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why did Arlen Specter decide to run as a Democrat instead of as an independent?

Ben Pershing: I don't know what the ballot rules are in Pennsylvania. But even if he had called himself an independent, he would have to caucus with one party or the other in order to get his committee assignments. So if he was going to be a Democrat in the Senate, for practical purposes, then I guess he figured he should be a Democrat for reelection too.

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Philadelphia: Hi Ben: The primary results in a few states including Penn. are critical. However, the item about Conn. candidate Blumenthal is the news today.

Do you think that he will be another Martha Coakley, someone who was expected to win big and then fizzled from self inflicted wounds? I watched his press conference. I read the news item from Chris Shay's interview on this matter. Blumenthal did not come clean. Having a bunch of retired or active marines surrounding you is not enough!

Ben Pershing: The jury is still out on Blumenthal. (Self-plug: This is the story I spent today covering - http://bit.ly/bAW52G) A few key questions: 1) Will there be any kind of groundswell from Democrats to replace him with another candidate? So far there hasn't been. 2) Are there more examples of him exaggerating or "misspeaking" about his military record that we haven't seen yet? 3) Is there anything else bad in his background, his resume, etc, that we don't know about yet?

Remember, Blumenthal hasn't faced the scrutiny of a tough campaign in years, so who knows whether he is as ready for prime time as Democrats hoped when he replaced Dodd in the race back in January.

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Philadelphia: I'm submitting before the results come in.

I voted for Arlen Specter's opponent only because I'm tired of very old men trying to hang onto power at all costs. He would be 86 years old at the end of his term. Is he trying to just hang on like Robert Byrd? These dinosaurs make 65 year-old senior citizens look like young bucks.

Ben Pershing: Age seems to be a factor this year in a way it hasn't been for a long time. Maybe it's just that these older lawmakers carry with them a visible reminder that they've been in office a really long time. That definitely didn't help Bob Bennett in Utah.

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How pathetic was Blumenthal?: he ought to be ashamed --"misplaced words" my foot. I'm a progressive (now independent) and I'm more than disgusted by his dodges and unwillingness to say he lied and explain why he lied.

My prediction: He's going down -- and deserves to. His arrogance is more reason that people are furious with the hubris and hypocrisy. And in his case, it was absolutely unnecessary, simply proof of hubris and arrogance and that he is a liar and if he lied about this, what else?

Where's Ned Lamont?

PS: I hope by the time this chat takes place that Specter has gone down in flames too.

Ben Pershing: You're not the first person to ask me about Ned Lamont today. He's running for governor, and has given no indication that he would want to switch races.

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College Park, Md.: Poor Oregon.

If nobody else asks, I was curious if there was anything you noticed in the results coming from Oregon today?

Ben Pershing: Yes, poor Oregon. I haven't noticed anything in the Oregon results yet because there are no Oregon results yet. The slate there is fairly quiet compared to Ky., Pa., etc. What action there is comes in the open-seat gubernatorial race. Democrats have a competitive primary between ex-Gov. John Kitzhaber and ex-Sec State Bill Bradbury. Even more exciting: The GOP nominee will probably be Chris Dudley. Yes, THAT Chris Dudley, former giant gawky NBA center who went to Yale and may well have been the worst free-throw shooter ever to grace the league.

Speaking of which, the Wizards are probably going to draft John Wall! I'm not a Wiz fan but he will be fun to watch.

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Evanston, Ill.: If Mark Critz wins in Penn.'s 12th special election, does that mean Scott Brown's 15 minutes are up?

Ben Pershing: You mean if Tim Burns wins? I'm not sure how Critz winning would knock Scott Brown out of the spotlight.

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Bloomington, Ind.: Did U.S. Rep. Souder resign today or is he planning to resign on a future date?

It seems like it's a pretty under-the-radar story or it is just me?

My own bet is that Gov. Daniels is won't call a special election until Nov. 2nd. Just my bet.

washingtonpost.com: Indiana Rep. Mark Souder resigns after admitting affair (Washington Post, May 18)

Ben Pershing: Souder says he will officially resign Friday. Yes, this story got less attention than it would have otherwise just because there was so much other political news today. But we wrote a pretty thorough piece on it and so did the other major newspapers and the Hill publications. Really a striking story. I've covered the House for more than a decade and Souder has been as conservative as they come on "family values" issues, etc.

I don't know what Daniels will do regarding a special election but your guess seems like a reasonable one. Why spend the extra money and effort it takes to hold a special election when he can just wait?

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Plattsburgh, N.Y.: Didn't Bill Clinton admit to dogging the draft? Didn't hurt his career. Even Hillary is massively popular today and was still winning primaries after the stuff about the Bosnian sniper fire.

Ben Pershing: But remember, that was a big story for Clinton and it took a long time for him to get past it. Some people even thought it might sink his candidacy at the time. And it was a big story for George W. Bush that he was able to get into the national guard when other guys were getting drafted.

So Blumenthal has that angle (he got deferments, then got into the reserves) AND the occasions when he either implied or flat-out said that he served in Vietnam. It's a recipe for trouble.

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Mt. Lebanon, Penn.: If you watched MSNBC today you saw nothing but endorsements for Arlen Specter masquerading as "news" or "debate." Andrea Mitchell's show was absolutely the worst. She was shameless in the guests she had on gushing about Specter. When they got to the part about him walking on water I turned the TV off.

So, if it works it's OK? And if it doesn't, the guy who wins gets to become the next big media darling, is that how this works?

I can't figure out which is worse: Gulf of Mexico tarballs or the ones with national news shows.

Ben Pershing: I didn't see Andrea Mitchell's show so I can't comment on her (or the rest of MSNBC) allegedly being biased for Specter. Rachel Maddow is on right now and I certainly don't think she's on Specter's side in that race.

Speaking of cable news, we've got this big primary night and all these other political stories brewing. So I turn on CNN and who does Larry King have on as his guest right now? Mick Jagger! For the full hour! Talk about being off-topic ...

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Washington, DC: I'm assuming Ill. is referring to how Brown winning a "given" D seat supposedly proved the Tea Party's power and anti-Democrat sentiment. Critz winning Murtha's seat would put a dent in that theory, as it's also a seat held for a very long time by a Democrat in a blue state, and if the GOP can't take it, there may not be as much anti-Democrat sentiment as the GOP may wish.

Ben Pershing: Sure, all of that could be true. But I took the suggestion that Brown's 15 minutes of fame would be over to mean that someone else -- presumably Critz -- would take over as the media darling of the moment. Even if Critz wins, I don't see him becoming famous the way Brown did.

I'd also hesitate to draw too many conclusions one way or the other if Critz wins. He basically ran against his own party -- against the health-reform bill, etc.

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Rand Paul!: We've been hearing a lot that Specter and Lincoln's races are referendums on Obama.

Paul just trounced the GOP's preferred candidate in Kentucky. Can we say this a referendum on the current state of the GOP (and possibly Mitch McConnell personally)?

Ben Pershing: This election year seems to be a referendum on incumbents and the "establishment" of both parties. It just so happens that Democrats have a lot more incumbents this cycle, so they have more to lose.

That said, it's certainly not a good night for McConnell. His candidate didn't just lose, he lost by more than 20 points. They just don't make political kingmakers like they used to.

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New Haven, Conn.: Did the New York Times also quote Richard Blumenthal saying that he didn't serve in Vietnam too?

Doesn't that help him in his "I mispoke" claim?

Besides, won't it be kind of odd if the president of WWF is the one attacking about false claims? I mean, have you ever seen the WWF?

Ben Pershing: First of all, remember that it's the WWE now, because the mean World Wildlife Fund made them change it. (Just kidding, animal lovers, don't sic your ferrets on me.) As for Blumenthal, he certainly has accurately described his service many many times in his career. And he appears to have only mischaracterized it a few times. But how many times can you "accidentally" suggest you served in Vietnam before it becomes a legitimate problem.

Here's another issue: Some major profiles over the years, including in important Connecticut publications that he or his staff would read, have said that he served in Vietnam. Why didn't he or his staff reach out to correct the record? Blumenthal was dismissive of this question at his press conference today, but I bet if those profiles had printed unflattering false information about him, instead of flattering information, his office would have been all over it.

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East Lansing, Mich.: Totally understand if there's tons of questions about the Republican primary for the nominatino for U.S. Senate today in Ky., but just curious about the Democratic side.

Looks like (although not certain) that Atty. Gen. Jack Conway will get the nomination. I thought the pollsters and pundits were predicting that the margin of victory between him and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo was going to be much closer?

Also, anything interesting happening in Oregon?

Ben Pershing: Right now the margin on the Dem side is very close -- Conway up 45-43 with 92 percent reporting. It's a squeaker.

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Reston, Va.: Rand Paul has taken a lot of interesting positions -- in favor of abolishing the Agriculture Department and Education Department, criticizing the war in Iraq, and talking about infringements on civil liberties. Can the Democrat, Conway or Mongiardo, use these positions to paint Paul as outside the mainstream?

Ben Pershing: They will certainly try. It will be interesting in the coming days to see reporters going up to Republican senators and officials in DC to ask, "Do you agree with Ron Paul about X? How about Y?" And they'll have to figure out how to answer.

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Detroit: In 2008, didn't Mitch McConnell get into trouble of losing re-election when polls showed him pretty close to his under-funded and little-know Democrat opponent?

Ben Pershing: Yes, McConnell had a reasonably tough race in 2008. He beat Bruce Lunsford, 53-47. McConnell definitely isn't a juggernaut back home right now. He's fortunate he won't be on the ballot again for another four years.

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Arlington, Va.: Can someone pull up clips of the FOX News folks dismissing charges against President George W. Bush's national guard service (or lack thereof) when they now criticize Blumenthal? Or will we have to wait for the Daily Show again?

Ben Pershing: Sure. Though we would also have to pull clips of Democrats saying it WAS a huge deal that Bush avoided the draft, and then see whether they would say the same thing about Blumenthal. It's often the case in politics that nearly everyone is a hypocrite.

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Washington, DC: "He basically ran against his own party -- against the health-reform bill, etc."

True, but Brown has also voted as a moderate since coming to the Senate, and was arguably moderate (by national standards) back in MA. Hardly Tea Party material. It hasn't stopped Tea Partiers and Tea Party supporters from claiming him as a win for them.

Ben Pershing: That is true. Brown ran vowing to be a moderate and he mostly has been one in office. But this all started with a question of whether a Critz win would make Brown less famous, and I still don't think it would.

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Athens, Ga.: I think one of Trey Grayson's mistakes that didn't get much coverage is that he didn't take Rand Paul very seriously. Even the Grayson campaign recent press releases were pretty dismissive of Rand Paul.

I think if the Jack Conway campaign are smart, and it seems like they is, will be taking Rand Paul very seriously.

Ben Pershing: Oh I'm sure they are. Paul has beaten Grayson soundly, he has a proven fundraising machine (with some help from his dad) and an army of very motivated supporters. Democrats will take Paul seriously as an opponent in a way that yes, Grayson probably didn't until it was too late.

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Bloomington, Ind.: Pennsylvania has a sore loser law and so Arlen Specter can't pull a Joe Lieberman by losing a Democratic primary and then turning around to run as an Independent.

Ben Pershing: Right. I think the question earlier was about why Specter didn't run as an Independent from the start, rather than as a Democrat.

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Washington, DC: I'm no fan of GWB, but there's a difference between saying, "I served in the National Guard during Vietnam," when you had a somewhat spotty attendance record, and saying, "I was in Vietnam," when you flat-out weren't. They're not really comparable situations.

Ben Pershing: No, they're not. But the other part of the story of Blumenthal's military record -- beyond the accusation that he lied -- is that he got five deferments, and then joined the reserves when it seemed at least possible that he would finally be drafted.

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Fairfax, Va.: Let's say Republicans run the table this November and it's a 50-50 Senate. Does Joe Lieberman, who is up for re-election in 2012, decide to stick to Democrats and caucus with the GOP?

Ben Pershing: Good question. I don't think Lieberman would cross all the way over to the GOP. That's just my hunch. And I wouldn't be surprised if he just retired in 2012 rather than trying to figure out which party banner to run under.

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New Haven, Conn.: I ask my grandfather, who lost his left arm in Vietnam, about Richard Blumenthal.

I was kind of taken aback by his answer. He told me, "I'm voting for Blumenthal. Of all the issues I vote on, whether or not something said "in" but meant "during" isn't one of them.

Ben Pershing: And Blumenthal had some veterans with him at his event today who are obviously going to stand by him through this. Again, I am most curious to see whether we know the whole story, or if there might be other examples of Blumenthal exaggerations that we haven't seen yet.

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Atlanta: "It's often the case in politics that nearly everyone is a hypocrite."

This is a very typical, and tiring, mentality from journalist. It as if you believe any criticism of Republicans must also apply to Democrats. Both sides are bad. Yawn.

Ben Pershing: No, I don't believe any criticism of Republicans must also apply to Democrats. I do believe there are cases where members of each party have been hypocritical, and I think this issue about past military service (or lack thereof) is a good example of that. Forget Blumenthal for a moment, just compare a cross-section of responses to Clinton's controversy to Bush's controversy on their military records. You will find both Democrats and Republicans changing their tunes. That's just a fact.

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Alexandria, Va.: Got any news on PA-04 Republican primary (Mary Beth Buchannan v. Keith Rothfus)??

Ben Pershing: According to our handy results tab, Rothfus is leading 66-34 percent with 53 percent of precincts reporting. I should have put 10 bucks on Rothfus last time I was in Vegas.

For what it's worth, MSNBC reporting some key Specter supporters say he can't win, that Sestak is en route to victory. It's anonymous, so take it with a grain of salt, but the momentum seems to be heading Sestak's way.

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Anonymous: Do the Vietnam allegations help Rob Simmons (an actual war hero, no?) in his fight for the GOP nomination? Or does Linda McMahon have that pretty much wrapped up?

Ben Pershing: That's a very good question. McMahon has definitely been seen as the favorite in recent weeks. But two things about the story help Simmons. The first is that he is, as you say, a real war hero who earned Bronze Stars in Vietnam. The second is that McMahon's campaign basically bragged about feeding the Blumenthal story to the press, which might alienate at least some voters.

That said, McMahon just has so much money that she would appear to have a real organizational advantage over Simmons.

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Maryland: Why do you think any politicians never just say "Of course I get deferments - NO ONE wanted to go to Vietnam, it was a terrible situation." There's a way to do that without disrespecting the veterans who did go. Politicians shouldn't be ashamed for not going. Of course, they shouldn't lie about it, either.

Ben Pershing: Yes, I think politicians could say that now, if they were honest and straightforward about it. The problem is that they often aren't.

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Richmond: Will mainstream GOP groups and the NRSC be willing to spend money on Rand Paul, especially if he sticks to some of these positions that aren't exactly kosher with the Republican Party?

Ben Pershing: I think at least some of the groups will be willing to spend money to help him, yes. A seat is a seat, even if party leaders worry that he will be a headache. Also, I'm not sure how much money he will really need. I think he will be just fine financially.

AP calls the PA-Sen primary for Sestak. Wow. Adios Arlen.

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Anonymous: Is this the end of Snarlin' Arlen?!

Ben Pershing: Yes. He will soon be snarlin' somewhere other than the Senate.

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Chicago: What do you make of the vote disparity in the parties down in Kentucky, a state that hasn't voted Democrat since Clinton in 1996?

Ben Pershing: I still don't know what this means yet but the numbers are pretty striking. With nearly all precincts reporting, 319K Republicans have voted versus 469K Democrats.

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St. Paul, Minn.: The AP just called the race for Sestak. Ben, what's your reaction? Can Sestak win the general?

Ben Pershing: Yes, Sestak can win the general. The conventional wisdom for a long time, particularly in Democratic circles, was that Specter was a better general election nominee against Pat Toomey because he was well-liked by moderates in both parties. But Specter's public image has now slipped -- thanks party to some good ads by Sestak -- to the point where he is seen as an opportunist by an awful lot of voters.

So Democratic activists will be fired up for Sestak, and conservatives love Toomey. It will be base vs. base. Fascinating.

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Washington, D.C.: Brown's fame is based largely on a media narrative and a TP spin that aren't based in reality -- my read was that a Critz win would deflate that narrative, which would make Brown less of a big deal. I hope Evanston chimes in to clarify.

Ben Pershing: That's probably what Evanston meant.

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Arlington, Va.: Now that we have defeated Specter, will he go back to the GOP for the rest of his term?

Ben Pershing: No. He has said he will stay a Democrat and will even support Sestak.

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Reston, Va.: When will we learn for sure whether Utah Senator Bob Bennett will start a write-in campaign or challenge state laws preventing him from running as an independent?

Ben Pershing: Good change of pace question. I believe Bennett has until Oct. 10 to decide whether he wants to mount a write-in campaign, though on a practical level he needs to decide much sooner.

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PA-12: What's going on in the election to replace Murtha? Just a case of the early returns coming from heavily Democratic areas or what?

Ben Pershing: With 70 percent reporting Critz has an 8-point lead. It would be difficult for Burns to overcome that big a difference. What was interesting about this race is that Democrats seemed to get really confident the last few days and so played up the storyline that it was a real referendum on GOP chances in November. The counter-argument you will hear from Republicans (assuming Critz does win) is that this was a Dem-held seat so Democrats shouldn't get any special credit just for holding it.

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Falls Chruch, Va.: Still a lot of business pending in the Senate. So which way does Specter vote now?

Ben Pershing: I imagine he will still mostly vote with Democrats. That's where his heart seems to be now. Though it would be funny if he said, "Now that it doesn't matter for my future, I'm going to go ahead and vote against Elena Kagan again."

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Oxford, Miss.: But Joe Sestak really isn't that liberal, right?

Ben Pershing: No, he's not. He's got a mixed record ideologically.

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Evanston, Ill.: Due to popular demand (!?), yeah, that's what I was getting at. Maybe Scott Brown's win in a special election in January 2010 was a bit of fluke and he isn't the great hope of the Republican party. Again, that's just me. Plus sorry for not being more clear.

Isn't Scott Brown about the only big name Republican to campaign in-person in Pennsylvania's 12 congressional district.

Ben Pershing: Welcome back, Evanston! Yes, you're right that Brown campaigned in PA-12 (I think a few other Republicans did too) so I guess this was not a great night for the Brown brand. But he is still dashingly handsome, right? Maybe Saturday Night Live will bring back Jon Hamm to play Brown in another skit.

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Ben Pershing: On that note, I'm going to sign off for the evening. Thanks for all the fine questions everyone. And I'm contractually obligated to say that you should keep staring at washingtonpost.com for several more hours as the rest of the results come in. Have a great night.

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