WASHINGTON - Embattled Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas narrowly won nomination to a third term Tuesday, overcoming a labor-backed challenger and defying a nationwide antiestablishment tide that dealt defeat to Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and forced a South Carolina congressman into a runoff.
California Republicans turned to a pair of wealthy businesswomen, first-time candidates Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, to lead their party into the fall campaign.
On the busiest night of the primary year, tea party activists flexed their muscle in South Carolina, pushing State Rep. Nikki Haley ahead of three rivals in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Shy of a majority, she will face Rep. Gresham Barrett in a June 22 runoff.
Haley has steadfastly denied the infidelity claims by a political blogger and a lobbyist who worked for a rival campaign. The daughter of Sikh immigrants, she would be the nation's second governor of Indian American descent.
In Arkansas, Lincoln had 52 percent of the vote in nearly complete returns, to 48 percent for Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
The result marked a stunning defeat for organized labor, which had poured more than $5 million into an effort to dump Lincoln in retaliation for her departure from party orthodoxy on numerous issues.
Seemingly headed for defeat in the race's final days, she unleashed a campaign ad that acknowledged voter anger with Washington, and she got a boost from former President Bill Clinton in the state he ruled as governor for nearly a decade.
Lincoln will meet GOP Rep. John Boozman in November in a race that national Republicans have targeted.
Another incumbent in trouble, Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, trailed challenger Trey Gowdy by double digits but qualified for a runoff on June 22.
South Carolina's lone black Republican state representative is heading to a GOP congressional runoff against the son of the late Strom Thurmond, a politician most remembered for his support of segregation.
Charleston State Rep. Tim Scott got the most votes to advance to the June 22 runoff. He faces Paul Thurmond, a county councilman.
Tea party activists flexed their muscle in Nevada, with Sharron Angle winning a crowded race to select a Republican opponent against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a state where unemployment was 13.7 percent in April.
Reid won renomination easily and will run on a family ticket this fall with his son Rory, who easily claimed the gubernatorial nomination.
Nevada's Republican governor, Jim Gibbons, was thrown out of office after a tumultuous term marred by a bitter divorce and allegations of infidelities.
The first-term Republican lost the GOP primary Tuesday to former federal judge Brian Sandoval.
The tea party also scored in Maine, where Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, a career businessman, was nominated by Republicans to be their candidate for governor.
LePage will face the winner of a four-way Democratic race and three nonparty independent candidates in November in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. John Baldacci.
In California, Meg Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of eBay, easily won the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, setting up a general election contest against former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Whitman took a large lead in the polls in the final weeks of the campaign after a negative ad war over which Republican was the most conservative.
The contest was the most expensive primary in California history, with Whitman spending more than $81 million and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner $25 million.
Whitman, who has never before run for elective office, is the first woman to win the Republican nomination for governor in California.
Brown, governor from 1975-1983, was unopposed in the Democratic primary.
California Republicans tapped Carly Fiorina, a former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, to challenge three-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in the fall.
California voters on Tuesday opted to scrap their partisan primary system in favor of an open one in which voters can cast ballots for any candidate.
The passage of Proposition 14 reflects voter anger in California and across the nation at a system that critics complained has been dominated by a small coterie of political activists in each of the two major political parties.
In a pair of Virginia congressional districts likely to become fall battlegrounds, Republicans chose Scott Rigell and Robert Hurt to challenge Democratic freshmen Reps. Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello.
And in Georgia, Republican Tom Graves, running with tea party support, won a special election to fill out the final few months left in the term of former GOP Rep. Nathan Deal, who resigned to run for governor.
In South Dakota, Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard won the GOP nomination for governor.
In Iowa, Republicans nominated former Gov. Terry Branstad to run against Democratic Gov. Chet Culver.
Branstad defeated Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats and State Rep. Rod Roberts of Carroll to claim the Republican nomination and a bid for a fifth term in office. Branstad served as governor from 1983 to 1999.
Branstad had raised far more money than his Republican rivals and led in virtually all the pre-primary polling.
Arkansas: Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln beat Gov. Bill Halter in a runoff and will face GOP Rep. John Boozman.
California: Republican Meg Whitman defeated state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner for the GOP gubernatorial nod. She will face former Gov. Jerry Brown. Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, won the GOP nomination for Senate and will face Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Nevada: Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons lost his bid for renomination to Brian Sandoval, an ex-judge. Tea party activist Sharron Angle will face Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall.
South Carolina: State Rep. Nikki Haley will face U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett in a runoff for the GOP nomination to succeed Gov. Mark Sanford. Six-term GOP Rep. Bob Inglis was forced into a runoff against Trey Gowdy, a local prosecutor.
Georgia: Tom Graves' tea party support helped power him to victory for a House seat in a GOP district. Rep. Nathan Deal resigned to run