What Did We Learn From Today’s Big Primary Contests?

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Harry Reid got a little breathing room tonight. Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Today was the biggest primary day of the year, with eleven states holding primary votes, including some big races the political world has been following for months. So who easily won exactly as we expected them to, who pulled off an upset, and what did we learn from all of it? Let's break it down.

Arkansas — Democrat Blanche Lincoln pulled off an upset victory in her runoff with Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. We know it's strange to refer to an incumbent winning a primary race as an "upset," but it's all about exceeding expectations. Just this morning, Politico's Mike Allen reported that the "state's political establishment" predicted Lincoln would lose by anywhere from five to ten points. She was considered especially vulnerable as an incumbent, establishment candidate who invited the ire of the Democratic base with her opposition to the public option, and then failed to top 50 percent in the original primary a few weeks ago, triggering the runoff today. She's still an underdog to win in the general election, however.
Lesson: Establishment candidates can still win in an anti-establishment year, but they may have to work for it.

South Carolina — Nikki Haley, star of the tawdriest race this year, won her Republican primary for governor tonight against three challengers, but just barely failed to reach the 50 percent threshold, setting up a runoff with second-place finisher Gresham Barrett. However, according to Bill Kristol on Fox News tonight, party insiders expect Barrett to drop out and concede the nomination to Haley.
Lesson: Voters in South Carolina just don't believe that someone would actually have an "inappropriate physical relationship" with a blogger.

Nevada: Tea party favorite Sharron Angle won the highly coveted honor of taking on the vulnerable Harry Reid for the Republicans this November, beating out former front-runner Sue "Chicken-care" Lowden. However, Reid is already licking his chops at the prospect of having the far-right Angle as his opponent.
Lesson: The fortunes of a campaign can turn on a single, ridiculous remark about bartering chickens. Also, it ain't over (for Reid, in this case) until the tea party sings.

Also in Nevada, incumbent Republican governor Jim Gibbons has lost to former federal judge Brian Sandoval.
Lesson: This just goes to prove that old political adage, "Voters don't reelect terrible absentee governors who have affairs with Playboy models." Okay, that's not an adage. True, though.

California: Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina cruised to victory in the Republican Senate primary and will now face incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer, while former eBay CEO Meg Whitman trounced the field in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nod and will face former governor Jerry Brown in the general election.
Lesson: Spending $70 million of your own money is one way to push your campaign over the top. If you don't have $70 million, just make an insane ad about evil sheep. They are equally effective campaigning methods.