Tuesday could mark the day the Establishment strikes back.
In Senate primaries in Arizona, Florida and Alaska, veteran politicians are poised to brush back charges from insurgent outsiders and move on to the general election—possibly showing that the anti-incumbent mood of the electorate has started to soften.
The biggest name on the ballot Tuesday is John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee who has spent much of the year tangling with a surprisingly robust Republican primary opponent, former congressman J.D. Hayworth.
But even though Hayworth benefited from Tea Party energy and the political heat and light around the immigration issue in Arizona, McCain pulled substantially ahead in the polls after spending nearly $25 million, to Hayworth’s $2.6 million as of August 4.
McCain successfully shifted the focus to his opponent: Hayworth’s past campaigns seemed to suggest he hadn’t always been such an anti-government conservative as he portrayed himself in 2010.
“He made this race about J.D. Hayworth, which was smart,” said one prominent Republican insider. “If some of the other establishment candidates earlier in the year had been able to do that, they may have been able to survive.”
In Florida, meanwhile, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek is pulling away in the polls from gadfly billionaire real estate developer Jeffrey Greene, despite Greene’s spending as much as $23 million of his own money in the campaign.
That could clear a path for Meek to go on to a three-way battle for Florida’s open Senate seat, where he would face Republican conservative darling Marco Rubio and incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the Republican party earlier this year and is running as an independent.
A veteran Washington player told CNBC Monday that a Meek victory may, in the end, be the last thing that Washington Democrats would like to see in the race.
Meek has not polled strongly in the three way race, and it could be that Democrats would rather Greene win, so they could part ways with him over his lifestyle issues and hand a passive endorsement to Crist, a stronger candidate who could end up caucusing with Senate Democrats if he wins the seat.
“It’s all about resource allocation,” the veteran said. “National Democrats don’t want to spend millions of dollars just to see Meek lose—they want to spend that money somewhere else, where it could do more good.”
Meek succeeded his mother to the House seat he now holds. And the family tradition is alive and well in Alaska, too, on Tuesday, as Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose father also served as an Alaska senator, is running against a Sarah Palin-backed Republican candidate for the GOP nomination.
But Murkowski, too, appears safe, which means it could be a good day for the political establishment, and a bad day to be an insurgent.