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Political winds turn

Published May 19. 2010 05:00PM

Last night's primary election results show how quickly the political winds can turn.

Just a few years ago, in one of the most intense presidential races ever, words like "hope" and "change" became a mantra in the Obama campaign. Now, 18 months into his presidency, much of the Obamania fervor has dissipated, and even become a cloud hanging over the heads of some incumbent Democrats trying to get re-elected and remain in office.

In fact, judging from the latest latest Senate races, it's a question how much political clout the president has these days. Just a few months back, Rep. Joe Sestak trailed incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter by 20 points in the polls, but last night he stunned the nation by soundly defeating the 30-year veteran of the Senate.

Sestak's television ads, showing "Specter the Defector" in his Republican days, had an impact. Did the president throw Specter under the bus by not campaigning for him? Once Democratic strategists saw Specter's numbers dropping in the polls, there was little hope the president was going to make a personal appearance in the state to try and rescue Specter's sinking ship.

Instead of making an appearance in Philadelphia to help the senator who claimed to have helped push Obama's stimulus and health care bills over the top with his key votes in the Senate, the president was in Ohio, blasting Republican critics for obstructing his economic recovery measures.

Even though last night's primary drew just over 30 percent of the voters out to the polls, those who did vote were driven by their obvious disgust and distrust of politicians in Harrisburg and Washington, especially in dealing with a sour economy. The key talking point for candidates going into November's general election will be the economy, specifically jobs. There are 629,000 unemployed workers in Pennsylvania and they make up an angry segment of the voting landscape.

The passion to oust Washington insiders for the out-of-control government spending is what has been driving grass roots political groups like the tea party and the 9/12 Project, whose members want to see a government "of the people" and a return to the basic principles outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Candidates hoping to regain the people's trust - and vote - should be aware that terms like political machinery, political coattails, and political lobbying and cronyism have become toxic in today's political environment.

Tea party candidate Rand Paul chalked up one of Tuesday's biggest wins by defeating Kentucky's Secretary of State Trey Grayson for the GOP senate nomination. Grayson was the endorsed candidate of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

In his post-election comments, Paul provided one of the best sound bites of the evening, sounding a rally cry that will have incumbents and Washington's establishment politicians shaking in their shoes throughout the summer and heading into the fall election.

"I have a message," Paul said, "a message from the tea party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We have come to take our government back."

By Jim Zbick

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