Tuesday's primary lineup, featuring high profile elections in Florida, Arizona, and Alaska -- and lesser contests in Vermont and Oklahoma -- was billed as a test to see whether the political establishment of either party could hold its own in this summer of Americans' discontent. The verdict, especially after the votes were counted in Florida, was not clear-cut.
And in Alaska, the picture was even murkier. With 429 out of 438 precincts reporting, Republican challenger and Tea Party fave Joe Miller held a narrow 2,000-vote lead over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Miller had been endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
In the first big result of the night, Florida Democratic senatorial candidate Kendrick Meek scored one for the establishment by handily defeating self-funded billionaire Jeff Greene. But in the Republican gubernatorial primary, it was insurgent Rick Scott who toppled the party's standard-bearer, Bill McCollum Jr.
Meek, an African-American congressman from Miami, was declared the winner soon after the polls closed, ultimately gaining about 57 percent of the primary vote. He enjoyed the backing of the Democratic Party's establishment starting with former President Bill Clinton and working through the party all the way to his mother, popular former congresswoman Carrie Meek.
In a sign of the times, Meek expressed himself on Twitter before appearing before his followers at the traditional hotel rally. "We did it!" Meek tweeted. "Thank you, Florida!"
On the Republican side, Marco Rubio was the near-unanimous choice of Republicans, a result that could be seen one of two ways.
On the one hand, Rubio is a mainstream Republican conservative who served as speaker of the Florida House in Tallahassee, where he was known as a competent lawmaker who worked easily within the system.
On the other hand, Rubio is a Tea Party favorite who chased Florida Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary -- and out of the Republican Party itself. Crist was the handpicked choice of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee even though Rubio was already in the race. Crist is now running for the Senate as an independent.
And on Tuesday night, Rubio positioned himself very much as an outsider. "We have a straightforward election here in Florida," he told his supporters. "If you like the direction Washington is taking America, there are two candidates in this race -- Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist -- and you should vote for one of them."
Rubio added that if you don't like the direction the country heading -- "Washington is broken," he said -- you should vote for him. "That's the message I'll be sending over the next 70 days," Rubio told Fox News. Rubio begins that 10-week sprint leading Crist and Meek in the polls
, and with other signs that the wind might be at his back as well, including the significantly higher turnout Tuesday among Republicans in Florida than Democrats.
In the Republican gubernatorial primary, the establishment took it on the chin. In the most expensive primary in the state's history, McCollum lost to self-financed multimillionaire Rick Scott. Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, won her race against only token opposition, saving almost all her campaign war chest for the general election.
More Primaries Coverage:
- Kendrick Meek Wins Democratic Senate Nod in Florida, But Faces Uphill Fight
- Rick Scott Topples Bill McCollum in Florida GOP Governor Upse
- John McCain Wins GOP Primary in Arizona
- John McCain: I Haven't Changed My Positions, and Don't Ask Me About Trust
- See all of Politics Daily's 2010 Elections coverage
McCollum, 66, is an uncharismatic, but highly experienced elected official, who served two decades as a congressman from the Orlando area before returning to Florida to run twice -- and lose twice -- in Senate bids. In 2006, he was elected statewide, as attorney general, and decided to run for governor when Crist chose not to seek re-election and go for the Senate.
The state Republican Party backed McCollum financially and overtly -- and continued this support after Scott got into the race. Scott spent between $40 million and $50 million of his own money introducing himself to voters as the man who could create jobs in Florida and deriding McCollum as a careerist who was part of the problem, not the solution.
McCollum countered by running negative ads informing Floridians that Columbia/HCA, the hospital conglomerate Scott started, was found liable by the government in the biggest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history -- it paid a fine of $1.7 billion -- and that Scott was forced out of the company. This onslaught chipped away at Scott's early lead. He responded by doubling down -- and going negative himself. The mutual attacks clearly took their toll on each candidacy, as little-known and underfunded candidate Mike McCalister received about 10 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Still, in 2010, it's not clear that being called a shady operator is worse than being called a career politician, as Bill McCollum learned Tuesday.
In another significant primary state, Arizona, incumbent Republican Sen. John McCain beat former conservative talk show host and onetime Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth.
Hayworth was outspent and outmaneuvered by the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. In the waning days of the campaign, Hayworth took to calling McCain "a political shape-shifter," who would move back to the political center after the primaries ended. Hayworth's shock at such a prospect -- hardly a novel move by a veteran politician -- mostly served to underscore his naïveté.
Also in Arizona, Ben Quayle narrowly topped a crowded field of 10 candidates in the contentious GOP race for the 3rd congressional district. The son of former vice president Dan Quayle eked out a win with just 22.7 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile in Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski was leading Miller going into the day, but partial results show her trailing. Miller, a Fairbanks lawyer, war hero and West Point graduate, mainly attracted national attention because of his endorsement by Palin, a longtime Murkowski rival.
There was no surprise in Vermont's Democratic Senate primary, where incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy handily beat newcomer Daniel Freilich, a physician and Navy veteran, to move a step closer towards his seventh term.
In the Republican primary, former talk radio host Paul Beaudry won a close race and will now take on Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, who holds the Green Mountain State's lone House seat.
Also tight is the contest to determine the Democratic nominee who will run to replace the retiring Gov. Jim Douglas. With 89 percent of the vote counted, state Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin leads state Sen. Doug Racine by just over 100 votes and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz by 900 votes. The winner will face Republican Brian Dubie, the lieutenant governor, in the general election.
In Oklahoma, there were two GOP runoff elections for House. Political novice James Lankford beat Kevin Calvey, a former state lawmaker and Iraq war veteran, to become the nominee in the 5th Congressional District, according to The Associated Press. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Mary Fallin, a Republican, who is running for governor.
In the 2nd District, GOP voters chose veterinarian Charles Thompson over 26-year-old rancher Daniel Edmonds, to take on Democratic Rep. Dan Boren in the general election.