Gay marriage, centrists take major hits
North Carolina voters strengthen the state's gay-marriage ban, and Indiana Republicans overwhelmingly reject the re-election bid of six-term Sen. Richard Lugar.
North Carolina voters decided overwhelmingly to strengthen the state's gay-marriage ban, and six-term Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar was routed by the Republican Party's right flank Tuesday — a conservative show of enthusiasm and strength six months before the general election.
Mitt Romney swept three Republican presidential primaries, moving closer to sealing his nomination, and Wisconsin Democrats decided on a candidate to face GOP Gov. Scott Walker next month in a contentious recall election.
North Carolina became the 30th state — and last in the South — to add an amendment on marriage to its constitution. In doing so, by a 22-percentage-point margin, voters banned same-sex marriage and barred legal recognition of unmarried heterosexual couples by state and local governments.
While many other races were on the ballot, including primaries for statewide offices and congressional seats, Amendment One appeared to drive much of the political discussion — and drew national attention. The amendment reaffirms a 16-year-old law that bans same-sex marriage and goes further by barring legal protections for civil unions and domestic partnerships.
At least two other states will vote on gay-marriage rights in November. Minnesota has a constitutional amendment on its ballot, and Maine has a referendum to allow same-sex marriage. Maryland and Washington voters also may be asked to affirm state laws that allow same-sex marriage.
In North Carolina, many voters still didn't understand what the amendment would accomplish, polls showed.
Money from national interest groups poured into the state. The Rev. Billy Graham appeared in a full-page ad supporting the amendment, and others in his family recorded messages.
Former President Clinton and his former chief of staff, Erskine Bowles of North Carolina, recorded phone messages on behalf of opponents. Obama's campaign also issued a statement saying he opposed the amendment, and opponents tried to raise doubts about it by focusing on weakened domestic-violence protections for unmarried couples and loss of health insurance for children of same-sex couples.
For some, the amendment was the main or only reason they voted.
Cameron Hughes, 25, was in the process of moving to Charlotte for a banking job, but came back to Chapel Hill on Tuesday to vote.
"It's an embarrassment and it's pathetic," he said, "and I'm ashamed to have to come out here and vote on something like this. ... I'm ashamed that apparently a large majority of the citizens of my state are pro-bigotry."
Richard Lugar, one of the Senate's longest-serving members and a collegial moderate who personified a gentler political era, was turned out of office by a Republican challenger.
The six-term senator lost to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, whose campaign was fueled by tea-party groups and national conservative organizations that deemed Lugar too willing to compromise.
Lugar, 80, had not faced a challenge from within his party since his first election to the Senate in 1976. But he received less than 40 percent of the vote Tuesday.
His defeat continued a hollowing of the middle of the Senate. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine, has decided not to run for re-election, citing polarization. Two Democrats, Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jim Webb of Virginia, also are retiring. Two other moderate Democrats, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana, face tough re-election races.
Tea-party organizers and conservative leaders held the outcome as evidence of a broader, national demand for Republicans with unshakable stances on fiscal austerity and conservative values.
For other voters, Lugar's troubles reached beyond partisan loyalty. He was required this year to change his voter registration to the farm his family has owned for years rather than the Indianapolis house he sold in 1977 — an episode that underscored how tenuous his ties to Indiana seemed.
For many Lugar supporters, the results were a sorry arc — not only for a man who has served for 35 years in Washington, D.C., and as Indianapolis mayor before that, but for the notion of crossing party lines.
Prominent Democrats, including President Obama, issued statements of appreciation Tuesday night for the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his work on foreign affairs.
Some Democrats, however, seemed buoyed by the results. They now see an opportunity to pick up a Senate seat that could help the party retain control of the chamber. Rep. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic candidate, is believed to have a better chance with independents and moderate Republicans against Mourdock.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett won the Democratic primary in Wisconsin's historic recall election, leaving him four weeks to make the closing argument that Republican Gov. Scott Walker should be booted from office after 16 months on the job.
Walker easily defeated token opposition in the GOP primary, and Barrett's victory set up a June 5 rematch of the 2010 governor's race.
Walker joined with Republicans who had retaken control of the Legislature to strip most state workers of their collective-bargaining rights.
He emerged from that fight as a hero to Republicans nationwide, but a villain to unions and Democrats who collected more than 900,000 signatures to put Walker back on the ballot less than two years into his four-year term.
Mitt Romney continued his progress toward the Republican presidential nomination by winning primaries in Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia. He won at least 59 delegates, with 37 still undecided, and now has 915, according to an Associated Press — 229 shy of what's needed to become the formal nominee.
Compiled from The Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and The New York Times