By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After hearing months of dire
political predictions, President Barack Obama's Democrats took
heart Wednesday from primary results that spared an
endangered senator and highlighted Republican Party divisions
ahead of November's elections.
Democratic Senator Michael Bennet's primary win in Colorado
bucked a national anti-incumbent trend and was good news for
Obama, who campaigned for Bennet in a bitter fight against a
challenger backed by former President Bill Clinton.
Republicans, meanwhile, saw candidates backed by the party
establishment go down to defeat to outsiders in Colorado and
Connecticut Senate primaries that could complicate their
chances in November.
"Democrats definitely had the better night," analyst
Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report said.
"Pulling an incumbent back from the edge of defeat in an
environment like this is a good result."
Democrats have been battling a strong anti-Washington and
anti-incumbent voter mood in their quest to retain control of
the House of Representatives and the Senate in November.
Republicans have a strong chance to take control of at
least the House in the Nov. 2 election. They must gain 39 House
seats and 10 Senate seats to gain congressional majorities that
would slam the brakes on Obama's legislative agenda.
Bennet, appointed to the Senate seat in Colorado last year
when Ken Salazar became Interior Secretary, enters the general
election race as a slight favorite against conservative Tea
Party-backed Republican nominee Ken Buck.
Bennet's victory suggested there could be limits to the
anti-incumbent mood that swept away two of his Senate
colleagues and a handful of House incumbents in primaries
earlier this year.
Bennet made no commitment about how much he would rely on
Obama in the general campaign, and Republicans said they would
ensure he could not paint himself as a Washington outsider.
DISTANCE FROM OBAMA?
"While there's no doubt that Bennet will now attempt to
distance himself from his party leaders in Washington, his
liberal record in support of wasteful spending and bigger
government bureaucracy speaks for itself," said Republican
Senator John Cornyn, head of the party's Senate campaign arm.
Colorado's Buck is the fourth Republican backed by the
conservative Tea Party to clinch a Senate nomination --
following Rand Paul in Kentucky, Marco Rubio in Florida and
Sharron Angle in Nevada -- and their candidacies create new
problems for Republicans.
All four have been unpredictable and must prove they can
expand their appeal beyond the Tea Party's conservative core.
Their nominations boost Democratic chances in four states
critical to Republican hopes of capturing the Senate.
"These candidates have created some problems for
Republicans, and they will probably cost Republicans some
opportunities they should have had," Duffy said.
In Connecticut, the victory of wealthy wrestling executive
Linda McMahon over former Representative Rob Simmons in the
Senate primary was another triumph for outsiders over the
McMahon has promised to drop as much as $50 million of her
fortune into the race against state Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal, but Democrats said they plan to make her former
role as chief executive of the World Wrestling Entertainment
Inc. a prime campaign issue.
The popular wrestling enterprise offers staged spectacles
featuring scantily clad women and heavily muscled men bashing
each other with props.
"I think the outcome of last night's elections ... were
nothing but good news for the Democratic Party," White House
spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
In Georgia, U.S. Representative Nathan Deal narrowly
defeated Karen Handel in a Republican runoff for governor that
had become a proxy battle between potential 2012 Republican
Handel was endorsed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin,
the 2008 vice presidential nominee. Deal, a former U.S.
representative, was backed by former Arkansas Governor Mike
Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)