It’s the political establishment vs. the outsiders in Tuesday’s primaries. And the establishment has the better odds.
Republican Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski were poised to win bitter primaries in Arizona and Alaska against tea-party-backed candidates.
In Florida, boatloads of cash may not be enough to propel former health care executive Rick Scott and real estate businessman Jeff Greene to victory in gubernatorial and Senate primaries.
“I think the voters have figured out that no matter how much money some guy spends, just because he’s wealthy and can run ads that slam the other guy doesn’t make him the right person to govern Florida,” said state Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is locked in a bruising Republican gubernatorial campaign against Scott.
Scott has spent almost $39 million of his own money on the campaign and for months has blanketed the state with his commercials, most attacking McCollum.
The winner will face Florida chief financial officer Alex Sink, who is expected to win her Democratic primary.
Yujel Akdeniz, 57, cast his vote early Tuesday at a community center just south of West Palm Beach, voting for Sink “even though she opposed construction of the mosque in New York near Ground Zero.”
“I’m a Muslim, but we need a change in Florida,” he said. “In politics, there’s always a herd mentality. They all do it together, then one by one they change later.”
More than 361,000 voters have already cast ballots in Florida’s early voting system, according to the secretary of state’s office.
High spending also drove the state’s Senate contest, where Washington-backed Rep. Kendrick Meek went into Tuesday’s Democratic primary with a 10-point lead in a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday. Yet 28 percent of respondents said they were undecided between Meek and billionaire Greene, who has spent lavishly from his fortune and forced Meek to drain his campaign coffers.
The winner will face Republican Marco Rubio and independent Gov. Charlie Crist in November.
Voters have rejected a string of Washington-backed candidates from coast to coast as the nation’s unemployment rate stubbornly hovered near 10 percent and incumbents from both parties have been blamed. In Arizona, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth hoped that sentiment would help his return to Washington after being voted from office during the 2006 wave that gave Democrats control of both chambers of Congress.
The radio host’s challenge to McCain appeared to fall flat, though. One poll last month showed McCain, his party’s 2008 presidential nominee, with a lead of as much as 45 percentage points. McCain has never lost an election in his home state and fought hard to cut into Hayworth’s credentials as a conservative outsider.
Arizona Republicans are also holding primaries for candidates to challenge incumbent Democratic Reps. Gabrielle Giffords, Ann Kirkpatrick and Harry Mitchell. And the open House seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. John Shadegg attracted 10 GOP hopefuls, including Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle.
McCain’s vice presidential pick, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, tried to help a tea-party-backed candidate challenging a family foe in Alaska. Republican Joe Miller’s upstart primary bid against Murkowski looked like a long shot, but it didn’t scare away Palin.
“He’s got the backbone to confront Obama’s radical agenda,” Palin said in a recorded call to voters.
Miller also drew the backing of the Tea Party Express, a California-based group that’s been hitting the airwaves and holding rallies. That group claims at least partial credit for upset wins in other states — Sharron Angle in Nevada and Mike Lee in Utah.
The Alaska primary also has personal implications. Palin trounced Murkowski’s father, Frank Murkowski, in a 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary, which launched Palin’s national political career.
When Palin abruptly resigned her governor’s post last summer, Lisa Murkowski said she was “deeply disappointed that the governor has decided to abandon the state and her constituents before her term has concluded.”
Voters in Vermont and Oklahoma also were picking candidates Tuesday.