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Obama's on no ballot today, but he's on the minds of Specter, Sestak, Lincoln, Halter -- and voters

May 18, 2010 |  5:38 am

Pennsylvania Democrats Joe Sestak and Arlen Specterkarenbleierafpgttygeowidmanap

Well, today is a sort of the midterm election day en route to the midterm election day, Nov. 2.

Three primary states will be closely watched as transient Delphic augurs of what to expect in this fall's election results. And as an almost mid-semester grade on the presidency of the ex-state senator from Illinois. Or, as Karl Rove so suggestively puts it, how badly will Democrats do?

President Obama himself is so wrapped up in the day's election outcomes that he's rushing off to an Ohio steel plant that he's been dying to feign interest in seeing for some time. If this presidential battleground-state campaigning distracts some media attention and gets him into the news flow otherwise dominated by more possible electoral defeats, well, that's OK with David Axelrod.

Our buddy Mark Z. Barabak has wrapped up the scenario with his usual perception right here. (See, you really do need to click around this site more.)

Probably the most closely watched race today is the Senate primary in Pennsylvania where two-term Rep. Joe Sestak (left photo, above) hopes that Obama brings as much success to the struggling reelection campaign of Arlen Specter as the president did to those of his previous favorites in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey -- which is to say, none.

In 2009, after 40 years as a Republican, Specter discovered at the urging of VP Joe Biden, that ...

... he really was a Democrat after all. Lifelong Democrat Sestak doesn't agree and launched a stiff primary challenge despite White House discouragement and an alleged White House job offer.

Recent polls reveal both Sestak surging to a slight lead and his greater strength in November against likely conservative Republican candidate Pat Toomey. As for Obama, who last year promised Specter his full support for switching parties, well, Air Force One will fly right over Pennsylvania today en route to Ohio.

Which could, in theory, be good for Specter. Pennsylvani's Democrat Mark Critz and Republican Tim Burns

Also in a special Pennsylvania election, the House seat of the deceased John Murtha is up for grabs between one of his staffers, Mark Critz, and an energetic Republican businessman, Tim Burns. (See Related Item below.)

As voters sign for their ballots this morning, polls show the race too close to call. But if the GOP wins in that working-class, longtime Democratic western Pennsylvania district, it could be a long 2010 for Obama's party, which currently controls both houses of Congress handily.

Recent polls underscore the spreading oil slick of voter unhappiness, with Congress' approval rating below 30%, minority Republicans now leading majority Democrats on the generic congressional ballot and nearly 6 of 10 voters saying they'll look for someone other than their House incumbent to support.

That's the highest looking-around number since 1994 when -- oh-oh -- the out-party (GOP) took control of both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades and held it for 12 years.

Speaking of Bill Clinton, in his home state of Arkansas, incumbent Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln is in primary trouble, still leading but by less than a well-known two-termer should. She was for Obama's healthcare bill before she was against Obama's healthcare bill. Her party opponent,Arkansas Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Bill Halter Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, thinks that's equivocating, if you can ever imagine such a thing in American politics.

Lincoln is leading in polls, but not by enough to avoid a June runoff.

Loyal Ticket readers will remember from 2007-08 our regular item affection for Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-like, ob-gyn, long-shot Republican candidate for president who was even older than another Republican candidate, John McCain, who didn't win either.

Well, say hello to Paul's 47-year-old son, Rand, a Kentucky eye doctor who's challenging the establishment GOP Senate primary pick there of Mitch McConnell's secretary of State Trey Greyson.

Because of McConnell's support and Paul's Dad-like attacks on the federal government and spending and the Iraq war and the Department of Education and the Fed, this one will be a referendum on Washington.

At this last minute, polls show Washington losing.

So far in this lousy economic year of angry voters, several prominent senators, including Democrats Evan Bayh and Byron Dorgan and more than three dozen House members of both parties, have discovered they want to spend more time with their families come next January.

Two other members of Congress -- Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah and Democrat Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia -- had that choice handed to them involuntarily by voters.

Related item:

Can Tim Burns become the GOP's next Scott Brown?

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty Images (Sestak); George Widman / Associated Press (Specter); the campaigns of Critz (left) and Burns; Associated Press (Lincoln, left, and Halter).