WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House gently scolded labor unions on Wednesday for spending millions of dollars in support of an Arkansas Democrat who lost a bid to unseat fellow Democrat Senator Blanche Lincoln.
Unions spent an estimated $10 million to try to defeat Lincoln, who defied a U.S. anti-incumbent wave and held off a strong challenge from Arkansas' lieutenant governor, Bill Halter, on Tuesday.
By winning the Democratic nomination, Lincoln earned the right to face Republican John Boozman in her bid for a third term in November 2 congressional elections in which Republicans are poised to take seats away from Democratic majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, asked about the union money spent trying to help one Democrat knock out another, wondered aloud whether the union money "might have been better spent" in autumn campaigns for Democratic candidates against Republicans.
He said Democrats are likely to face a lot of close races in November and President Barack Obama believes that the union money "might come in more handy then."
Unions and liberal groups had fought Lincoln because of her support for bank bailouts and her opposition to a proposal to include a government-run insurance option in the U.S. healthcare overhaul. The overhaul was ultimately approved without the so-called public option.
Lincoln is a key figure in financial regulation legislation working its way through the Senate.
Voters in 11 states on Tuesday chose the Democratic and Republican candidates to face off in November.
The results showed the political clout that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin holds within the Republican Party. Palin was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008 and while Democrats deride her, she remains a popular figure among conservatives.
Palin had endorsed three candidates who won contests on Tuesday: Nikki Haley advanced in her bid for the Republican nomination to be governor of South Carolina, Carly Fiorina took the party's nod to face Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in California, and Terry Branstad won the Republican nomination for Iowa governor.
Palin had come to Haley's defense in particular after infidelity allegations against her surfaced in South Carolina that Haley strongly denied.
"Congratulations to the commonsense conservative candidates who proved again last night that the voice of the American people cannot be ignored in Washington any longer," Palin said in a statement.
"These candidates have the courage to stand up for their convictions, fight for what they know is right for their states and our nation, and buck politics as usual in order to put government back on the side of the people," she said.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)