WASHINGTON (AP) - In an election year filled with female candidates, Tuesday turned out to be a big night as two businesswomen captured the Republican nominations for Senate and governor in California, a female state lawmaker prevailed in the GOP Senate primary in Nevada and a South Carolina legislator brushed aside allegations of infidelity to grab the commanding spot in the GOP gubernatorial runoff.
Not to be undone, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a two-term lawmaker, scored a narrow victory over a liberal Democrat in a Democratic primary runoff. She quickly pivoted to taking on Republican Rep. John Boozman.
With fresh November match-ups set, Democrats wasted little time propping up three of their most vulnerable Senate incumbents while criticizing their newly minted GOP opponents as too extreme for the country. Republicans returned the criticism as general election campaigns got under way across the country.
The unpopular Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now is squaring off against a tea party-backed Republican, Sharron Angle, and the vulnerable California Sen. Barbara Boxer faces Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive.
Meg Whitman won the party's nomination for California governor, and South Carolina state Rep. Nikki Haley outpaced three male rivals in a race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination but, without a majority of votes, heads into a June 22 runoff.
It was the first time the California Republican Party has put a woman - much less two - at the top of its ticket.
"Career politicians in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., be warned: You now face your worst nightmare - two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done," said Whitman, the billionaire former eBay chief executive,
In a populist model Democrats are using nationwide, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, cast Lincoln as an independent voice seeking to hold Wall Street accountable and accused Boozman of "putting political interests first in order to defend the big corporate interests."
Democrats also said Reid and Boxer were working on job creation and helping middle class families, while Angle was focused on "appealing to the fringe wing" of the GOP and Fiorina was "a right-wing extremist" whose "loyalties lie with Wall Street, the oil companies and the insurance companies."
Countering, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Menendez's GOP counterpart, claimed that the moderate Lincoln was guilty of "fully embracing her liberal Washington record" while Boozman "is a proven leader" who will "stand up to the Obama administration."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee that Cornyn heads posted websites early Wednesday arguing that both Reid and Boxer were guilty of "decades of epic" failure in Washington.
And Republicans argued that voters in Nevada and California faced a choice between Washington veterans pushing a liberal agenda and outsider GOP candidates who will fight the liberal agenda of the Democratic-led Congress and White House.
One day after Republicans and Democrats nominated candidates in 12 states to set the stage for the fall, Democrats and Republicans hurried to launch general election campaigns as President Barack Obama's party seeks to defend its comfortable majorities in Congress and in statehouses across the country and Republicans look to regain power.
The primaries, spread across a dozen states, took place against a backdrop of the worst recession in decades, stubbornly high unemployment, dispiriting day-by-day images of the damage caused by an offshore oil rig disaster and poll after poll that reported the voters angry and eager for a change.
In governors' races, Whitman, the former e-Bay CEO, will face former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in California. They are seeking to succeed the retiring Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And hundreds of miles to the east, Haley survived a bitter battle to face Rep. Gresham Barrett in a June 22 runoff for the GOP nomination in a solidly Republican state. She overcame allegations of marital infidelity, which she denied.
In an interview with ABC, Haley said South Carolina voters "won't be embarrassed if they elect me."
"This is a time when people are frustrated. ... they're tired of the fact that there's too much intrusion from Washington," she added.
Elsewhere, Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons of Nevada fell to Brian Sandoval, a former federal judge, after a term marked by a messy public divorce and allegations of infidelity. Rory Reid, the son of the Senate majority leader, won the Democratic nomination.
Gibbons was the first governor tossed from office in a year of living dangerously for incumbents everywhere.
With her win, Lincoln avoided joining a list of congressional incumbents sent packing by voters in their own party in earlier contests - Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., and Parker Griffith, R-Ala.