WASHINGTON — Insiders struggled to win primaries Tuesday against outsider challenges, an early test of just how angry voters are at the political establishment.
The voting came in Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio, three states President Barack Obama won in 2008 and potentially pivotal November battlegrounds for control of the Senate.
Turnout was exceptionally light in an off-year primary — about 14 percent in North Carolina — a sign that anger at politicians and Washington wasn't yet turning into a wave of voting.
The voters who did turn out, however, were apparently unwilling to give establishment candidates an easy ride even in their own parties.
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In Indiana, former Sen. Dan Coats won the Republican Senate nomination, but not in the commanding fashion that might be expected for a political veteran with the strong backing of the Republican establishment.
Coats, who was a senator from 1989 to 1999, ran up against Tea Party activists and conservatives who backed Marlin Stutzman, a small businessman and former state senator, and former Indiana Rep. John Hostettler.
Coats had 41 percent of the vote with most counties tallied, leading a multi-candidate field but unable to muster a majority. Stutzman had 32 percent and Hostettler had 19 percent, followed by lesser known candidates.
The Democrats will nominate Rep. Brad Ellsworth in a state committee meeting on May 15. Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh's surprise retirement announcement came too late to allow time for a primary campaign, and Ellsworth is unopposed.
In North Carolina, Democrats refused to rally behind the insider choice in their party contest to challenge Republican Sen. Richard Burr, apparently forcing a runoff on June 22.
Democratic insiders lined up behind former state Sen. Cal Cunningham. He was challenged by Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who cast herself as the outsider, and Ken Lewis, a farmer.
With most votes counted, Marshall led with 37 percent of the vote, while Cunningham trailed with 27 percent.
In Ohio, where Republican Sen. George Voinovich is retiring, Democrats sparred in a nasty fight for the Senate nomination that could linger heading into the general election against former Republican Rep. Rob Portman.
Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher had strong support from Democratic insiders, including Gov. Ted Strickland. He was challenged by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who's said she was cast aside and that she wouldn't campaign for Fisher if he were the nominee.
Said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg: "She's angry and bitter at the Democratic establishment."
In early returns, Fisher had 56 percent of the vote and Brunner had 44 percent.
Two more key Senate primaries will be held on May 18. In Kentucky, both parties are locked in heated contests to select their nominees to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Jim Bunning. In Pennsylvania, Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter is facing a tough challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.
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