American voters appear to have taken out their anger and frustration at Washington, D.C, voting for the challenger over the incumbent in three of four major congressional races across the country. Analysts say this is likely to be a very tough year for current officeholders in the November congressional elections.
Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania saw his 30-year Senate career come crashing to an end Tuesday night, losing to Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak in a Democratic primary vote.
Specter had been a Republican senator up until last year, when he switched to the Democratic Party, with the backing of President Barack Obama. His challenger, Joe Sestak, broadcast blistering TV ads saying Specter had switched parties because he was worried about saving one job - his own. Congressman Sestak savored his victory late Tuesday.
"Too many career politicians are a bit too concerned with keeping their jobs, rather than serving the public, rather than helping people," said Sestak. "This is what democracy looks like. A win for the people over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington, D.C."
Sestak will now face Republican candidate Pat Toomey in the November election for this key senate seat.
In Arkansas, centrist Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln failed to win a majority of votes in the primary against a left-leaning challenger, and is headed to a June run-off for her party's nomination.
David Hawkings is managing editor of Congressional Quarterly Weekly, one of the leading print and online news media covering Congress. Hawkings agrees that there is an unmistakable and prevailing anti-incumbent mood in the country.
"It is going to be a big anti-incumbent year, and a big anti-Washington year, and what is still left a little bit up in the air after last night is how much that anti-incumbent wave, how disproportionately that anti-incumbent wave, will wash over the Democrats," said Hawkings. "Or whether it is really even a wave."
Hawkings says Democrats say there is no upcoming Republican "wave" which will sweep scores of them from office, pointing to a special election for the U.S. House seat for the late Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Long-time Murtha aide and Democrat Mark Critz won that seat Tuesday in a conservative district that voted for Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
There was another anti-incumbent slap in the face for establishment Republicans in Kentucky. Rand Paul, a grassroots conservative activist candidate, running under the "Tea Party" banner, scored a blowout win over the hand-picked Republican establishment candidate, Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Rand Paul, the son of libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, issues this warning in his victory speech.
"I have a message, a message from the Tea Party, [a] message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We have come to take our government back," said Paul.
David Hawkings said the victory shows that the Tea Party is a force to be reckoned with.
"It is a clear sign that the Tea Party movement has some lasting staying power, that is has an ability to galvanize disaffected voters, and not only did Rand Paul win in Kentucky, but a Tea Party candidate won in a House race in Louisville, [Kentucky] defeating another establishment candidate," said Hawkings.
But Hawkings said the Tea Party victories could actually turn out to be a disadvantage for Republicans in the November general elections, because Tea Party candidates tend to be viewed as too far to the right ideologically by moderate voters.
"It is an age-old problem in politics, where in general in American politics, the candidate who appeals most to the most fervent members of the party wins the primary and then often has a very difficult time appealing to the broader electorate," added Hawkings.
The party that controls the White House historically loses congressional seats in a new president's first mid-term elections. The question for President Obama and Democrats is how many seats they will lose. Republicans would need a 40-seat gain in November to take back majority control in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Hawkings and other analysts caution political observers not to read too much into Tuesday's results, because there are still more than five months to go until the November elections.