WASHINGTON — The conservative tea party movement scored a major political victory Tuesday as its candidate won the Kentucky Senate primary — the latest sign of the antiestablishment anger jolting American politics.
That anger also was felt in races in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, where incumbent Democratic senators faced serious challenges from within their party. As a further sign of the unrest, Republicans were vying for a Pennsylvania congressional seat long held by Democrats.
The races were watched closely for clues to which party will control Congress after the November election. President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party is expected to lose ground but hopes to keep enough seats to preserve its majority in both chambers.
In Kentucky, Rand Paul, an eye surgeon and the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, defeated Trey Grayson, a state official. Grayson was backed by Republican leaders, including the state’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate.
Paul had prominent backers too, including former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. He was the favourite of the tea party movement, which believes that government spending and influence should be curbed.
Paul won easily. He had 59 per cent of the vote with returns counted from three-quarters of the precincts, compared with 35 per cent for Grayson.
The race was seen as a test of the movement’s political muscle.
It already has helped prevent a senator from Utah, Bob Bennett, from becoming the Republican candidate because he was seen as insufficiently conservative.
It also helped propel Republican Marco Rubio to a lead in the pre-primary polls in Florida’s Senate race, which prompted Gov. Charlie Crist to quit the party and run as an independent.
Paul told supporters his victory was “a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We have come to take our government back.”
Palin told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Paul’s victory is a “wake up call for the country.”