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Women Candidates Score Big Victories in US Primary Races

  • Cindy Saine

Women candidates have emerged as the big winners in primary races in 12 U.S. states to choose Democratic and Republican candidates for congressional and gubernatorial elections in November. In Arkansas, incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln surprised analysts by surviving a tough challenge from an opponent on the left. Our correspondent reports from Capitol Hill on what the results might mean for the balance of power in the U.S. Congress in November.

Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln faced such a tough primary challenge from Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter that most political analysts had declared her politically "dead" before the vote. Labor unions and progressive groups had targeted the centrist Lincoln for defeat after she opposed a government-run alternative "public option" in the health care reform debate.

But she won a narrow victory in Tuesday's primary by running as a political "outsider," even though she is the incumbent.

"I cannot feel any stronger than I feel today as a daughter of the [Mississippi River] Delta and Arkansas to know that your message is loud and clear, that Washington, Washington needs to work for us in Arkansas, said Blanche Lincoln.

Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia says Lincoln owes her victory to former President Bill Clinton.

"You have to give credit to Bill Clinton," said Larry Sabato. "He is the one who saved her. Of course, he is a native Arkansan. And there is a lot of pride about Clinton in Arkansas, particularly among Democrats. And Clinton did not just put an ad out for Blanche Lincoln; he campaigned all over that state. He hit hard against the opponent for Lincoln, Bill Halter, and I think he pulled her across the finish line. I think she is going to lose in November, but at least she won the Democratic nomination."

Lincoln faces perhaps an even tougher general election campaign against Republican Representative John Boozman.

Public opinion polls indicate that voter frustration is at record levels, with a strong anti-incumbent mood among those surveyed. But analyst Larry Sabato says the media has exaggerated the anti-incumbent trend. He says that in primary races so far, only four prominent incumbents have been defeated, while 200 have won.

"So actually, the message I see coming out of the primaries is that the party base on the Democratic and Republican side is actually fairly satisfied with the people who are representing them," he said. "That may not be true of the independents, including the Tea Party people. They will vote in November for the most part. But for now, we don't see the kind of anti-incumbent wave that many have been discussing."

One thing that analysts agree on is the strong showing by women candidates on the busiest primary election day of the season so far.

In California, Republicans nominated two female former Chief Executive Officers of major corporations. Meg Whitman is the Republican nominee for governor and Carly Fiorina will take on Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer for a U.S. Senate seat. In South Carolina, state Representative Nikki Haley did much better than her three male opponents in the race for the Republican nomination for governor. She deflected allegations of marital infidelity and a racial slur targeted against her. Haley, a favorite of the loosely-organized grassroots Tea Party movement, will face state Senator Vincent Sheheen in a runoff.

Analyst Larry Sabato says Republicans realize they need to field more diverse candidates - not only white men.

"The Republicans have had a core of representatives and senators and governors that have been heavily male," said Sabato. "They are trying to do something about that, recognizing that they cannot continue to have that kind of image and win in 21st century America."

The Republican U.S. Senate primary in Nevada was closely watched because the winner will take on Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid in November. Reid has appeared very vulnerable in several public opinion polls. Republican voters chose Sharron Angle, who is also a Tea Party candidate. Some analysts, including Larry Sabato, say Harry Reid was hoping to run against Angle.

"Democrats are actually much more optimistic today, having seen the Tea Party do well in Republican primaries," he said. "They believe they have a much better chance of winning some of these races now that very conservative candidates have been nominated by the Republicans."

Sabato says that if the November elections produce a tidal wave of Republican victories across the country, Tea Party candidates will also be voted in. But he says that if the elections are more competitive, many independent voters will reject the Tea Party candidates as too conservative, which will benefit Democrats. But most analysts agree that President Barack Obama's Democratic Party is in for a rough time in November and that it will likely lose seats in the House, the Senate and in state capitals across the country.

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