Last Night’s Big Loser: National Republicans

In Kentucky, the national Republican Party backed the wrong candidate in not one but two primaries. The Democrats managed to hold on to Rep. John Murtha’s old seat in Pennsylvania. And while Sen. Arlen Specter is no longer a Republican, his defeat by Rep. Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary means the GOP nominee will face, perhaps, a much stronger opponent than the beleaguered Specter would have been.

It was a rough night for the Republicans.No one suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. His hand-picked candidate was trounced by tea partier Rand Paul in the Kentucky Senate primary. McConnell’s pick, Trey Grayson, only got 35% of the vote despite his party’s backing. Grayson even lost in his home county.

In a smaller, but no less telling, Louisville House district primary last night, NRCC choice Jeff Reetz came in third in a primary to challenge Rep. John Yarmuth. Reetz only got 17% of the vote.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats managed to deny Republicans what would have been a symbolic taking of the 12th district seat once held by the late Rep. John Murtha. There, Mark Critz (D) narrowly won the special election over Tim Burns (R), 53% to 45% with 99% of precincts reporting. Burns reportedly called Critz to concede before the Associated Press had even called the race.

“Tonight’s result was undoubtedly disappointing,” NRCC chair Pete Sessions admitted in a statement, “but we will take the lessons learned from this campaign and move forward in preparation for November.”

And then there’s Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Even though the Republicans’ man of choice, Pat Toomey, cruised to a win in the GOP primary, he now has to face Sestak, who by most accounts is a much stronger contender than Specter.

There was considerable debate during the Democratic primary about who would make a stronger challenger to Toomey. But by the time Sestak finished lowering the boom on Specter he was a badly damaged candidate. An ad showing Specter with former President George W. Bush was the final nail, and Specter’s opportunism in switching parties became an even bigger liability than had been predicted.

National Democrats, including the White House, had gone to bat for Specter. But they’re breathing a sigh of relief tonight, whether they admit it or not. That’s not to say a Sestak win in the general is in the bag, but it’s not the news the GOP would have hoped for.

Few GOP wishes, it would seem, came true last night.