Could Arlen Specter, Blanche Lincoln defy experts, buck the anti-incumbent trend and win primaries Tuesday?
The narrative in Washington reads like a script from 1994. An anti-incumbent fervor is sweeping the nation. The team out of power -- then as now, the Republican Party -- is poised for a dramatic comeback.
Teeing off the upset victory in January of Republican Scott Brown in the blue state of Massachusetts, pundits for weeks now have been pushing the narrative that Tuesday's primaries could see two incumbent Democratic senators -- Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln -- lose their bids for reelection.
In Arkansas, the centrist Lincoln had long been cast as the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent. Challenged from the left by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, Lincoln, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, has fought back with....
...support from President Obama and former President Clinton, the titan of Democratic politics in Arkansas. The inside joke among politicos is that the two Democrats are battling for the right to lose in November to the likely Republican candidate: Rep. John Boozman.
In Pennsylvania, Specter is in the political fight of his life. Switching to the Democratic Party when he calculated that he could not win a primary against "tea party" favorite Pat Toomey, Specter -- despite backing from the White House and the state's political establishment -- is facing a spirited challenge by Democrat Joe Sestak, a retired rear admiral and congressman who has questioned how voters can trust Specter as a Democrat after electing him for 30 years as a Republican. His ad is a classic.
Latest polls show the primary contest too close to call, but insiders say Sestak has the big momentum that usually makes all the difference in politics. Tom Ridge, a former Pennsylvania congressman and governor, as well as the first secretary of Homeland Security, said on MSNBC this morning that he'd give the edge to Sestak, but wouldn't write Specter off.
"I've seen too many people write his political obituary too many times," said Ridge. "He's a survivor."
My guess is that Lincoln, leading 46% to 37% in recent polls, will win, but won't clear the 50% needed to avoid a June 8 runoff. As for Pennsylvania, I'm betting on Sestak, who looks, in the photo at top, like a man with the wind at his back.
-- Johanna Neuman
Photo: Democratic challenger Joe Sestak at a rally in Media, Pa., on Sunday. Credit: Associated Press