Tuesday night saw the biggest surprise yet of the 2010 election cycle, as insurgent candidate Joe Miller overtook popular incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, shocking just about everyone. With that in mind, here's a list of the top surprises of this primary season:
1) Joe Miller rides the Tea Party wave. Despite a hazy polling picture of Alaska (which, being gigantic and thinly populated, is difficult to poll to begin with), most expected the established incumbent Murkowski to sail to reelection. Not so. Unheard of outside Alaska, Miller rode $560,000 in spending from Tea Party Express to victory.
2) Who is Alvin Greene? South Carolina's June 8 primaries certainly had higher-profile races--including Nikki Haley's scandal-filled gubernatorial contest and Republican Congressman Bob Inglis's tough re-election challenge--but the biggest surprise of the night was Alvin Greene. The unemployed veteran won the state's Senate primary having run no visible campaign, filed no federal election paperwork, and attempted to pay his $10,000 filing fee (in lieu of signatures) with a personal check. Observers wondered whether Greene was a Republican plant; the South Carolina Democratic Party called on him to drop out; since his victory, Greene has been indicted on charges of showing obscene photos to a University of South Carolina student. Greene remains the Democratic nominee to challenge Republican Sen. Jim DeMint this fall.
3) Mollohan falls victim to anti-incumbent fever. Democrat Alan Mollohan has served in the House for 13 terms--a quarter century--but he fell victim to the anti-incumbent wave in his May primary, losing to state Sen. Mike Oliverio 56% to 44%. Polling had shown Oliverio leading, so the defeat wasn't entirely unexpected, but it was a shock nonetheless to see such a long-serving incumbent thumped by over 10% in his own primary. Oliverio hit Mollohan repeatedly on ethics and transparency, capitalizing on a Department of Justice investigation of Mollohan that had been closed without any charges filed.
4) Bennett goes down in flames. The first major casualty of the Tea Party movement was Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, who was knocked off his own reelection ballot at the Utah Republican convention in May. It wasn't surprising that Bennett lost his primary, but it was surprising that he lost so suddenly. After delegates were chosen at statewide caucuses, it became apparent that two Tea-Party-backed challengers had significant support, but few imagined that Bennet would get knocked out so convincingly at the convention, before the final round of convention voting was even reached, without even making it onto a primary ballot.
5) The billionaire jumps in. The Florida Senate race was already complicated enough, but the day after Gov. Charlie Crist left the Republican Party to run as an independent in April, billionaire Jeff Greene made it even more complicated. Greene announced he was entering the race with big-name Democratic strategist Joe Trippi at the helm and nearly unlimited personal dollars to spend. Greene surprised observers and angered the Democratic establishment, who had been lining up behind Rep. Kendrick Meek for the previous year.