Tuesday's primaries: A Tea Party setback?

What do the results in Florida, Alaska and Arizona — including a victory by John McCain over a grassroots rival — tell us about the mood of the electorate?

Arizona Sen. John McCain beat insurgent candidate J.D. Hayworth, a talk-radio star and former congressman.
(Image credit: Getty)

In the latest test of America's mood ahead of November's elections, establishment candidates overcame challenges from political outsiders in key races in Arizona and Florida. But the overall message from Tuesday's primaries was mixed, as, in another closely watched race, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was trailing her underfunded challenger, Joe Miller, who benefited from Sarah Palin's endorsement and backing from Right-leaning Tea Party groups. (Watch an MSNBC report about the results.) Here's a quick roundup of the key races:

Arizona: Sen. John McCain wins

The 2008 GOP presidential nominee was considered vulnerable early in the primary campaign, but, "after lurching hard, and awkwardly, to the right," he easily beat insurgent candidate J.D. Hayworth, a talk-radio star and former congressman, says Robert Costa at National Review. McCain's relentless campaigning — he spent a state record $20 million — served him well, says Dan Nowicki and Catherine Reagor in the Arizona Republic. But the clincher was McCain's "evolution from a onetime champion of bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform into a tough-talking border hawk," which let him "outflank" hardliner Hayworth on illegal immigration and border security. Voters are still mad at Washington, says Dan Balz in The Washington Post, but McCain proved that "incumbents who receive advance warning" and take challengers seriously can still crush the outsiders. McCain sacrificed his "maverick" status, says Jerry K. Remmers at The Moderate Voice. But he's 74 — this is most likely his "last hurrah" in politics, so he'll have six years to return to his old maverick ways, without worrying about reelection.

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Florida: Rep. Kendrick Meek

Florida Democratic senatorial candidate Kendrick Meek, who was endorsed by party leaders, got a scare from self-funded billionaire Jeff Greene, who rose in the polls during the campaign. But Meek "scored one for the establishment" Tuesday by winning handily, says Carl M. Cannon at Politics Daily. Maybe, but don't buy into the "Establishment Crushes Insurgents!" spin entirely, says Allahpundit at Hot Air. The "real winner" out of the Democratic primary was a Republican — Tea Party icon Marco Rubio. Now that the mainstream Democrat, Meek, will be on the ballot in November, fewer Democrats will vote for the third candidate in the race — Gov. Charlie Crist, who ditched the GOP to run as an independent — and that makes Rubio the likely winner. The real shock to the political mainstream, says Alexander Burns at Politico, came in Florida's GOP gubernatorial primary, in which multimillionaire health care executive Rick Scott narrowly beat Attorney General Bill McCollum, making "free-spending" newcomers 1 for 2 in the Sunshine State.

Alaska: Sen. Lisa Murkowski

There was no reprieve from anti-incumbent sentiment in Alaska, where GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski trails her challenger, attorney Joe Miller, by two percentage points. In theory, there are enough absentee ballots to close the gap, and they won't be counted for six days. But Miller's "stunning" strength revealed the depth of voter anger at Washington, says Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post. It also serves as a testament to "the power of Sarah Palin" and the conservative Tea Party activists who — upset over Murkowski's vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, among other things — backed Miller and helped make his campaign competitive, despite Murkowski's 10-to-1 cash advantage. Abortion may go down as the issue that costs Murkowski her seat, says Roll Call's Kyle Trygstad at CQPolitics. "Murkowski has been hammered by conservatives since she was in the state legislature for voting against pro-life bills." If this vote showed anything, it's that, at least this year, the angry Right turns out to vote.

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