If Rand Paul's landslide victory in Kentucky earlier in the evening was a kick in the teeth for the Republican establishment there, the same is true with what happened in Pennsylvania, where Rep. Joe Sestak — a decided underdog for much of the campaign — came from behind to oust five-term Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.
With 89 percent of the vote counted, Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, had 494,000 votes — 54 percent — to Specter's 425,000-plus votes, or 46 percent. Sestak will face former Rep. Pat Toomey (R), who nearly ousted Specter in the GOP primary six years ago, in November.
Specter, who is 80 years old and who had won five times as a Republican, switched to the Democrats in April 2009 when it became clear he couldn't survive a GOP primary rematch against Toomey. But the move didn't go over well with Democrats who were reminded — thanks to a savvy Sestak media campaign — of Specter's votes on behalf of Republican Supreme Court justices and his endorsement six years ago for another term by President Bush. One very effective ad told voters that Specter switched parties to save one job — his. Plus, there were Democrats with long memories who chafed at the thought of Specter aggressively grilling Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings back in 1991.
This year, Specter had the backing of President Obama, as well as Gov. Ed Rendell and the Democratic party leadership. It's the latest election where Obama weighed in — following gubernatorial contests last year in Virginia and New Jersey, and a special Senate race in Massachusetts back in January — and wound up on the losing end.
Following his defeat, Specter called Sestak and pledged his support for November.
Specter becomes the second incumbent senator denied renomination this year; two-term Utah Republican Bob Bennett was ousted at his party's state convention 10 days ago by those who deemed him insufficiently conservative.
12th CD: In what may have been the most significant result of the night, Democrat Mark Critz held onto the congressional seat that John Murtha (D) represented for 47 years until his death back in February. Critz, a longtime Murtha aide, defeated Republican businessman Tim Burns.
Republicans had argued that the 12th was the type of district they should win if they were going to make huge gains in November. Although the party registration showed the Democrats in the majority, it was culturally conservative and considered to be anti-Obama and anti-Washington ... the recipe for GOP success in the fall.
A lot more will be written and said about what happened here in the coming days.
Critz will serve until the end of the year, filling out Murtha's term. Both candidates face each other again in November.