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Politicians fight anti-incumbent anger in US primaries

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US voters headed to the polls Tuesday to choose candidates for November’s midterm elections, with Democrats and Republicans alike battling to overcome a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment.

With President Barack Obama focusing squarely on the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill, 12 of 50 states were selecting candidates in primaries which could set the tone for midterm polls in five months time.

Seething discontent at the sagging economy and soaring unemployment have left politicians on all sides struggling to win over voters, who have already jettisoned congressional incumbents in primaries last month.

Tuesday’s elections saw a further slew of contenders fighting for their political lives, with Arkansas’s two-term Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln striving to overcome upstart challenger Bill Halter in a run-off. Lincoln had angered progressives by failing to support a public health insurance option in Obama’s historic health reforms.

Halter tapped into the political mood by branding Lincoln a creature of Washington oblivious to heartland anger during campaigning. Several recent polls have put Halter ahead in his bid to win the right to challenge the Republicans for the Arkansas seat in November, when all of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate is up for grabs.

Another closely-watched race Tuesday is in Nevada, where Republicans are choosing a candidate to take on Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, their number one target in November. The apparent favorite is a former member of the desert and gambling state’s assembly Sharron Angle, who backs the right-wing Tea Party insurgency that has rocked Republican politics.

The Tea Party movement has demonstrated its power in some key nominating races in which the electorates are small and made up of only the most committed grass roots activists. But it is unclear however whether it will be as potent in elections with a wide-ranging electorate, where moderates, independents and Democrats all play important roles.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll indicated support for the movement was waning, with 50 percent of Americans now holding an unfavorable view of the group, up from 39 percent in March.

In California, there could be a coup for hi-tech business as two powerful businesswomen seek prominent places on the Republican Party ticket. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is seeking the party nomination for what would likely be a colorful battle against Democrat Senator Barbara Boxer, who is bracing for a tough reelection fight in November. Meg Whitman, a former eBay CEO meanwhile is tipped to win the party’s gubernatorial nod to battle Democrats to succeed California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who cannot seek reelection as he is term limited.

California’s primary campaign is already the most expensive in state history, with billionaire Whitman pumping in an astounding 68 million dollars of her personal fortune into her election bid to date. If Whitman wins, she will be the first woman nominated for governor by the California Republican Party. California has never elected a woman governor.

South Carolina, meanwhile, witnessed a brutal but inconclusive battle for the Republican gubernatorial ticket. The Sarah Palin-endorsed frontrunner Nikki Haley — who was forced to deny repeated allegations of extra-marital affairs during the campaign — just failed to score an outright majority against her opponent. Haley, who fell just short of the magic 50 percent mark, must now contest a runoff on June 22 against Gresham Barrett, who scored just over 21 percent.

South Carolina is no stranger to controversy swirling around the Governor’s mansion — the current resident, Republican Mark Sanford, mysteriously disappeared last year, then resurfaced and confessed to an affair with a secret lover in Argentina.

Los Angeles, June 8, 2010 (AFP)