Looking for election narrative just turns up more questions 

Well, Rand Paul trounced Trey Grayson, Mark Critz beat Tim Burns and Joe Sestak defeated the longest-serving senator in Pennsylvania history, while Blanche Lincoln will face Bill Halter in a runoff election. Are these races connected? The first law of punditry says you have to find a theme. But every time I go searching for a theme, I come up short.

Was Tuesday’s election a victory for Democrats? It’s too early to tell. Holding onto Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District was surely a big win. Sestak may be a relatively stronger candidate in the general election against Pat Toomey. Paul may be a relatively weaker candidate than Grayson. Then again, Rep. John Boozman, who avoided a runoff, seems a likely bet to defeat either Lincoln or Halter. The GOP could sweep all three Senate contests come November. We won’t know whether it’s a victory for the Democrats or the Republicans until Election Day.

Was Tuesday’s election anti-big government? In Kentucky, it was. In other places, who knows. Pennsylvania Democrats chose a more liberal candidate than Sen. Arlen Specter. Critz may say he’s conservative on guns and abortion, but he and his supporters know that the 12th-district economy depends on federal largesse. His connections to late Rep. John Murtha, and his promises to continue Murtha’s legacy, probably mattered more than anything else.

In Arkansas, the center-right Democrats may have received more votes than Halter, but who knows where the votes for D.C. Morrison will go in the runoff. And Halter’s left-wing support will no doubt be energized by his strong showing.

Was Tuesday’s election anti-incumbent? Perhaps, if we change “anti-incumbent” to “anti-establishment” — meaning anyone connected to the powers that be in both parties in Washington, D.C. The electorate is searching for fresh faces. Sestak has only been in Congress for three years, so he can claim to be relatively free of the Beltway taint. You can’t get much more anti-establishment than Paul. (And let’s not forget that his win also was a win for Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.) In Arkansas, the anti-Lincoln vote (55.5 percent) was much higher than her share (44.5 percent).

The problem with the anti-incumbent theme is that there are always some incumbents who win. Not every theme is true in every particular. But clearly something different is happening this year. My theory is that voters want to dismiss the elites who got the country into its current predicament. Some of those elites are Republicans, but many more are Democrats.

That may not be a satisfying answer. But at least we can be satisfied that, decades from now, historians will pronounce with absolute authority that last night’s contests were important because they set Paul on the path to the presidency.

I’m kidding about that last part. I think.

This article originally appeared in The Weekly Standard.

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