WASHINGTON -- Veteran Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski counted on voters to reward political experience Tuesday as they faced spirited Republican primary challenges in Arizona and Alaska 10 weeks before the general election. Florida weighed the merits of wealthy outsiders vs. establishment candidates in primaries there.
Nominating contests in four states -- Vermont also was voting, and Oklahoma held GOP runoffs -- highlighted dominant themes of this unpredictable election year, including anti-establishment anger and tea party challenges from the right.
Rich political upstarts in Florida were testing whether money and fresh faces could win the love of voters upset with Washington and with candidates backed by national party leaders.
Rick Scott, who made a fortune in the health care industry and spent $39 million of his own money on his gubernatorial bid, hoped to defeat establishment-favored Bill McCollum, the state's attorney general and a former congressman, in the GOP primary. Jeff Greene, a big-spending real estate tycoon, sought to overtake Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Democratic Senate nomination fight.
"I just think we need something different," said Democrat Christina Slesinger, a 43-year-old Orlando accountant who voted for Greene. "I don't want the same old, same old," she said.
Elsewhere, the Tea Party's clout was on the line.
Both McCain of Arizona and Murkowski of Alaska worked to overcome challenges from candidates backed by the fledgling coalition that questioned the lawmakers' conservative credentials. Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth ran in Arizona, Sarah Palin-endorsed Joe Miller, an attorney, in Alaska.
Tuesday's primaries played out before a backdrop of persistently high unemployment, voter disillusionment with Republicans and Democrats alike, and low job-performance standings for both Congress and President Barack Obama.
In previous primaries this year, voters have shown both a readiness to fire veteran lawmakers and a willingness to keep them.
The Tea Party has had mixed success. It won big in Nevada, Kentucky, Colorado and Utah GOP Senate contests but lost just about everywhere else.
But no matter Tuesday's outcomes, there's no question that the tea party has provided an enormous dose of enthusiasm to the GOP heading into the fall campaign. And that's dangerous for a dispirited Democratic base.
In Florida, the GOP gubernatorial nominee will face likely Democratic candidate Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer. The Democratic Senate winner will enter a three-way race in November against Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent, and Republican Marco Rubio.
McCain and Murkowski would virtually ensure their re-elections with primary victories; no Democrats are considered serious challengers.
Arizona Republicans also held contested primaries to challenge incumbent Democratic Reps. Gabrielle Giffords, Ann Kirkpatrick and Harry Mitchell. And the House seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. John Shadegg attracted 10 Republican hopefuls, including Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle.
In an indication of voter dissatisfaction in both parties, Florida Democratic Reps. Allen Boyd, Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ron Klein and Suzanne Kosmas all faced primary challengers, and GOP Reps. Cliff Stearns and Vern Buchanan also fought to hold onto their seats.