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Primary winners highlight political inexperience

Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet won the Democratic nomination to a full Senate term in Colorado Tuesday night, overcoming an outbreak of anti-establishment fever nationwide.
Image: Michael Bennet, Susan Dagget
Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo., celebrates with his wife Susan Dagget at an election party in Denver Tuesday after winning the Democratic primary.Ed Andrieski / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

All hail inexperience — the less familiarity with politics the better, no matter the party or state.

"The support of the voters of Connecticut isn't bestowed by the establishment or the pundits or the media. It isn't a birthright," former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon said after winning the GOP senatorial nomination in her first run for office.

Two mountain ranges away, appointed Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, tried to express the same sentiment after dispatching his rival, a former state house speaker. "This election is the first time my name has ever been on the ballot," said Bennett, who enjoyed President Barack Obama's support in the bitter Democratic primary.

Also in Colorado, businessman Dan Maes edged out Congressman Scott McInnis for the Republican gubernatorial nomination after a campaign in which both candidates suffered self-inflicted woounds.

Bennet, McMahon and Maes were three of the most distinctive winners on a busy primary night, one an incumbent who proved able to handle the type of primary challenge that has claimed lawmakers elsewhere, the other two the epitome of the conservative outsiders who will carry the GOP banner into the fall campaign, with control of Congress and 37 governorships at stake.

Each now pivots to the fall campaign. Bennet will face Ken Buck, another self-proclaimed outsider. McMahon is the clear underdog against Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut's veteran Democratic attorney general. Maes faces Democrat John Hickenlooper, the Denver mayor, and American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo, a former GOP congressman, in the general election.

On a four-state primary night, former Rep. Nathan Deal narrowly defeated ex-Secretary of State Karen Handel in a Republican gubernatorial runoff in Georgia. The former congressman will run against former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, who unleashed the first television ad of the fall campaign before the polls had closed.

In Minnesota, former Sen. Mark Dayton narrowly won the Democratic nomination for governor. He will face conservative State Rep. Tom Emmer, the easy winner of the GOP line on the ballot. Democrats have not captured the statehouse in nearly a quarter-century.

With Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell retiring in Connecticut, voters also settled a pair of contested gubernatorial primaries.

Tom Foley, a businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, won a three-way race for the Republican nomination.

Former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy defeated businessman Ned Lamont for the Democratic nomination. It was Lamont's second try for statewide office and far quieter than his first. He won a Senate primary four years ago in one of the standout races of the 2006 campaign, upsetting Sen. Joe Lieberman, who then won a new term in the fall as an independent.

In Colorado, Hickenlooper was unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

McInnis has acknowledged receiving $300,000 as part of a foundation fellowship for a water study report that was partly plagiarized. Maes has paid $17,500 for violating campaign finance laws.

The spectacle prompted former Rep. Tom Tancredo to jump into the race as an independent, which in turn led state party chairman Dick Wadhams to say it would be difficult if not impossible to defeat the Democrat this fall.

In Colorado, Bennet drew about 54 percent of the vote to outpoll Democratic rival Andrew Romanoff, the former speaker of the state House, as he defied a trend that has dealt defeat to a half-dozen U.S. Senate and House incumbents in other states.

Bennet was appointed to his seat nearly two years ago when Ken Salazar resigned to become Interior secretary in the Obama administration. Romanoff had hoped for the appointment, and he spurned entreaties from senior party officials to skip the race against Bennet, but he swiftly endorsed the winner after the outcome was clear.

In an intense campaign, both men sought the mantle of political outsider. Yet each relied on very well-known establishment politicians to help them — Obama in Bennet's case and former President Bill Clinton in Romanoff's.

The Republican primary was equally intense.

With returns counted from about three-quarter of the state's precincts, Buck had 52 percent of the vote and former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton was pulling 48 percent.

They, too, sparred over ownership of the outsider's credentials. Both also have ties to tea party activists, although Buck expressed frustration at one point, asking aloud for someone to tell those "dumba---s" to stop asking him about Obama's birth certificate while he was being recorded. He later expressed regret for the remarks.

Blumenthal, whose primary campaign was marred by misstatements that he had served in Vietnam, made no public appearance Tuesday night. But surrogates wasted little time. "Connecticut Republicans today nominated a corporate CEO of WWE, who under her watch violence was peddled to kids, steroid abuse was rampant, yet she made millions," the chairman of the Democratic Senate campaign committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said in a statement.

The two rivals could not be less alike — he the longtime statewide officeholder and she the political neophyte whose rise is part of a nationwide political trend that favors outsiders. Among her primary victims was former Rep. Rob Simmons, who began the primary campaign as the favorite and fell so far behind that he suspended his candidacy earlier in the year.

Simmons rejoined the race in recent weeks as attacks focused on the sometimes raunchy scenes that are part of WWE's appeal, but McMahon was garnering just under 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race.