In 2008, President Obama famously cast himself as a “change agent.”
Two years later, his idea of “change” has been turned upside down.
Voters in Tuesday’s primary elections decisively rejected “establishment” candidates associated with Obama and Republican leaders in Congress, ousting a 30-year incumbent in Pennsylvania and nominating a Tea Party candidate in Kentucky. The results were seen as a product of voter anger over the economy, the federal budget deficit and the overall size of government.
In Pennsylvania, endorsements from Obama, Gov. Ed Rendell and organized labor were not enough to save Democratic five-term incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter. If anything, they may have hurt Specter, the longest-serving senator in Pennsylvania history. He was defeated by Rep. Joe Sestak by a wide margin.
Specter left the Republican Party a year ago, saying the political climate on the right had become too partisan. Apparently, Specter’s choice to sway with the winds of change wasn’t an advantageous one. In his concession speech, Specter offered his support for Sestak, who will face the Republican nominee, former Rep. Pat Toomey, in the general election.
In Kentucky, Tea Party candidate Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul, defeated Trey Grayson in a landslide victory. Grayson, Kentucky’s secretary of state, was backed by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill. Paul won without the support of major Washington backers, and his victory has catapulted the Tea Party to the forefront of the midterm elections.
Despite the success of the Tea Party in Kentucky and the defeat of a 30-year incumbent in Pennsylvania, Congressional Democrats have argued that Tuesday’s results showed they can, when necessary, defeat Republicans in marginal swing districts. In a special election for the House seat held by the late Rep. John Murtha, for example, the Democratic candidate, Mark Critz, defeated Republican Tim Burns, despite a considerable investment in the race by national Republicans.
Nonetheless, the overwhelming message of Tuesday’s elections was clear: people want change.
And not the type the president had in mind.