Pennsylvania, Kentucky Results Show Voter Anger at Failed Politics

The tsunami of dissatisfaction with the current state of politics in this country is still building and has a long way to go before it crests.

By + More

By Linda Killian, the Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The anger and anti-establishment, anti-Washington sentiment that voters displayed Tuesday isn’t new. The wave has been building for several election cycles and both political parties had better take heed. The tsunami of dissatisfaction with the current state of politics in this country is still building and has a long way to go before it crests.

The most vivid repudiations of both party’s political leaders were the Senate primaries in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

In Kentucky, Tea Party darling Rand Paul won almost 60 percent of the vote, crushing Trey Grayson, who was backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as well as most of Kentucky’s GOP establishment. [See who supports McConnell.]

In Pennsylvania, not only Senate leaders and the governor but President Barack Obama lined up behind party switching Arlen Specter. But that didn’t help save the 30-year Senate veteran. Despite, or perhaps even because of that support, Joe Sestak won a comfortable victory over Specter. [See which industries donated the most to Sestak.]

Sestak is a 30-year Navy veteran and retired rear admiral who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.

The Democrats and Obama did everything they could do try to clear the way for Specter, even offering Sestak an administration job, reportedly secretary of the Navy. But Sestak wasn’t having any of it.

You’d think Obama, who was the long-shot challenger and not the establishment favorite when he ran for president, would have had a little more sympathy for Sestak’s quest. Back then, Sestak endorsed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Sestak’s victory speech, while gracious in its acknowledgment of Specter’s long service on behalf of Pennsylvania, was a clarion call for the disgruntled voters of 2010. In fact, it sounded as if he was channeling them.

“This election is about you…it’s about everyone who stood up and wanted diverse voices heard…This is what democracy looks like--a win for the people over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington, DC.”

Sestak said when he was elected to the House of Representatives three years ago he found too many career politicians who were more concerned about keeping their jobs than serving the public.

“Politicians in Washington need to be held accountable--that accountability has been missing for too long,” Sestak asserted. What is called for are new leaders who will abandon politics as usual and even stand up to their own party “when that party doesn’t get it right for us--that’s what people are looking for, Republicans, Independents and Democrats.”

That is very much what people are looking for, but it remains to be seen who will give it to them.

Voters were looking for that in 1994 when they turned control of Congress over to the Republicans. They were looking for it again in 2006 when that handed power back to the Democrats, feeling the GOP hadn’t delivered. And the election of Barack Obama was all about bringing change to Washington. Now the voters are disappointed again, but who will be their knight in shining armor to rescue them from the dragon of politics as usual? It’s not clear either party is up to the task.

Independent voters are especially frustrated with the system and looking for new voices, new solutions and new leaders. What impact they will have in November in determining which party will control Congress, remains to be seen.

The Republicans were hoping on Tuesday they would pick up western Pennsylvania’s 12th District--the House seat held by the late John Murtha. Instead, former Murtha staffer Mark Critz, who asked Bill Clinton and not Barack Obama to campaign for him, won a decisive victory.

But Critz is no cookie cutter Democrat. He is pro gun rights, antiabortion, antitax, and ran against Obama policies. The Democrats held the seat but picked up a centrist who may not be a reliable vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Neither Critz nor Sestak, if he prevails in November, will soon forget how they got elected and will be independent voices in Congress--at least that’s what the voters want from them.

Others elected in November for the first time will probably also feel they owe little to the political establishment and will be inclined to go their own way. So much the better. The political system has been failing Independents and centrist voters for too long.

Even if the Democrats do hold on to Congress in November, it seems almost certain they will have a smaller, more unruly majority less willing to go along with their agenda and more inclined to push for alternate solutions to problems.

  • Check out this month's best political cartoons.
  • Read more coverage of the political stories of the year.
  • Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our digital magazine.