3 primaries pose key test for ‘tea party’

Incumbents in Alaska, Florida, Arizona look to keep their seats

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Tuesday marks the final major test of “tea party” power in the primaries, as challengers try to capitalize on anti-incumbent sentiment in Alaska, Arizona and Florida, and incumbents hope to avoid becoming the latest victims in what’s been a rough year for officeholders.

The Sunshine State holds the most intrigue, featuring a battle for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination between longtime state Attorney General Bill McCollum and businessman Rick Scott, who on Monday won the backing of the Florida Tea Party.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Kendrick B. Meek is trying to fend off another businessman and political newcomer, Jeff Greene, in the Democrats’ Senate primary. Meanwhile, in Arizona, Sen. John McCain appears poised to head off a challenge from a former Republican congressman, and former Gov. Sarah Palin in Alaska has put her credibility and political clout on the line by backing an unheralded challenger to incumbent and in-state rival Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Mrs. Palin has become a synonym for tea party power, thanks in part to her high-profile endorsements of insurgent conservative candidates. But she is taking her biggest gamble Tuesday when the candidate she has endorsed, Joe Miller, faces off against the better-funded Mrs. Murkowski.

Mrs. Palin has recorded an automated phone message in an effort to bring out voters. She said Mrs. Murkowski, who is in her second term, is the most liberal of any incumbent Republican senator up for re-election this year. Mrs. Palin also has taken to her Facebook page to urge support for Mr. Miller.

“Our country does not need another Democrat in the Senate voting for the Obama agenda, which is bankrupting us,” she said, pleading for her supporters to contribute to Mr. Miller’s campaign for a last-minute push.

Mrs. Murkowski’s camp argues that Mrs. Palin is referring to some votes for spending bills that included earmarks Mrs. Palin herself requested as governor. Her campaign also says Mr. Miller is distorting the senator’s long voting record in opposition to President Obama’s health care overhaul.

Mrs. Palin also has made an endorsement in the Senate race in Arizona, though this time she is backing the incumbent, Mr. McCain, who made her a national figure by selecting her to be his running mate in his 2008 presidential bid.

Polls show Mr. McCain has taken control of this race against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth as the incumbent has embraced stronger border security and fended off attacks over his record on tax cuts.

The McCain campaign this week pronounced Mr. Hayworth “deader than Elvis,” while on his Twitter feed Mr. Hayworth lamented being drastically outspent by Mr. McCain.

“It’s sad that our senior senator cannot run on his own record,” Mr. Hayworth wrote, saying Mr. McCain is “instead spending $21 million attacking me through a buy & lie strategy!”

Florida may offer the day’s best test of anti-incumbent sentiment.

In the Republican governor’s race, Mr. Scott, a health care executive, has tried to portray Mr. McCollum, who has one of the most recognized political names in Florida, as a career politician and Republican Party hack who is out of touch with the needs of average Floridians.

On Monday, Florida Tea Party Chairman Fred O’Neal said Mr. Scott is the only candidate in the race “with proven business experience combined with shared conservative values.”

But the business experience comes with baggage. Mr. Scott was ousted as head of the Columbia/HCA hospitals chain in 1997 in the midst of a major fraud scandal involving Medicaid and Medicare payments.

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