South Carolina Republicans nominated a tea party-backed Indian-American woman to run for governor and a conservative black man to run for Congress from the former Confederate state. Another incumbent congressman lost. So did a Senate hopeful chosen by Washington Democrats.
Themes of the November midterm elections popped up in the handful of primaries and runoffs held Tuesday in four states, the latest cluster of contests to determine matchups for the congressional elections just over four months away.
It's shaping up to be an unpredictable year with several variables — from the sluggish economy to President Barack Obama's popularity to lingering resentment over lawmaker votes for the 2008 Wall Street bailout — affecting races across the country. The one clear element is the electorate's disgust with establishments of any kind; angry voters routinely are casting ballots against candidates with ties to Washington and the national political parties.
Perhaps no other contest illustrated that better than GOP state Rep. Nikki Haley's race for governor.
A state legislator with the backing of tea party activists and Sarah Palin, the Indian-American woman overtook the state's old-boy network to trounce Rep. Gresham Barrett, a four-term congressman.
With her victory, she moved one step closer to becoming the first female governor in conservative South Carolina; she stands as the front-runner in the race against the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen. She also secured her place as a rising female star in the GOP, if not a potential 2012 vice presidential candidate in the early primary state.
"South Carolina just showed the rest of the country what we're made of," Haley said following her victory. "It's a new day in our state, and I am very blessed to be a part of it."
The disgraced GOP Gov. Mark Sanford is leaving the post because of term limits.
Haley, 38, brushed aside allegations of marital infidelity and an ethnic slur to come within a percentage point of winning the gubernatorial nod outright on June 8. She won 65 percent of the vote to 35 percent for Barrett, who has had to answer for his 2008 vote for the unpopular Wall Street bailout.
South Carolina Republicans also nominated Tim Scott, putting him in line to become the state's first black GOP congressman in more than a century.
Scott, 44, also a state lawmaker, beat Paul Thurmond, the son of the late U.S. senator and former segregationist Strom Thurmond, in the runoff after securing the backing of Palin, the anti-tax Club for Growth and several Republican leaders in Washington. With all precincts counted, he had 68 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Thurmond.
The GOP-leaning 1st Congressional District stretches down the Carolina coast and includes Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. If elected to the House, Scott would be the GOP's first black lawmaker since Oklahoma's J.C. Watts retired in 2003.
Scott will face Democrat Ben Frasier, who also is black, in November, and is strongly favored to win; the district, which is 72 percent white, has sent a Republican to Congress for three decades. Rep. Henry Brown is retiring.
Also in South Carolina, six-term Republican Rep. Bob Inglis fell to prosecutor Trey Gowdy in the 4th Congressional District, making him the fifth House or Senate incumbent to stumble this year. Spartanburg prosecutor Gowdy forced Inglis into a runoff after making the race a referendum on the incumbent's bailout vote and casting him as not conservative enough for the district.
In North Carolina, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall won the Democratic nomination to challenge GOP Sen. Richard Burr in the fall.
She beat former Army prosecutor Cal Cunningham, a blow to Democratic Party leaders in Washington who recruited him and spent more than $100,000 to boost his campaign. Despite holding statewide office for more than a decade, Marshall portrayed herself as an outsider while claiming she was an advocate for average citizens and a fighter against powerful industries.
Utah Republicans chose attorney Mike Lee as a successor to vanquished Sen. Bob Bennett in a state that hasn't elected a Democratic senator in four decades. Lee defeated businessman Tim Bridgewater to win the GOP Senate nomination.
Bennett lost his bid last month for a fourth term. Conservatives at the GOP state convention punished him for his support of the financial bailout.
In Mississippi, voters chose Republican Bill Marcy to challenge Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson.