MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Democrat Alan Mollohan became the first member of the U.S. House to be ousted this spring primary season, after his opponent mounted a campaign that questioned the 14-term congressman's ethics and support for federal health care reform.
Mollohan conceded Tuesday night, ending nearly 28 years in the House. Unofficial returns showed that with 100 percent of precincts reporting, state Sen. Mike Oliverio carried 56 percent of the votes to Mollohan's 44 percent.
The more conservative Oliverio ran an aggressive campaign, portraying Mollohan as corrupt and out of touch. Conservative media rallied around the 46-year-old financial adviser from Morgantown, as did anti-abortion groups angry over Mollohan's support of health care reform.
Mollohan, 66, said his defeat was proof that negative campaigns still work and called Oliverio's attacks "totally spurious and totally false.'' But he acknowledged that he faced a "strong headwind'' because of the national political climate, voter discontent and anti-incumbent sentiment.
That mood also helped end the 17-year career of Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, who lost a GOP convention on Saturday.
"It's true there is definitely a wave out there, a national mood and wave,'' Mollohan said after his defeat.
Midterm congressional elections are referendums, he said, "and if people are not feeling good about what's happening, if they don't agree with legislation or they just are concerned, they express it.''
Mollohan stood by his record, but acknowledged to about 150 supporters that he could have been marketed better.
Oliverio said his campaign worked because it focused on fiscal responsibility and personal integrity.
"We announced our campaign 100 days ago, and in 100 days' time our country has fallen one-third of a trillion dollars further into debt. We have to get the country's financial house in order, and that's what we're committed to doing,'' he said.
Oliverio will face David McKinley, a former state Republican Party chairman and state House member, in November's general election.
McKinley said he was not surprised by Mollohan's ouster because "people just didn't like what was happening in Washington.''
The outcome is a referendum on President Barack Obama and his policies, from bailouts of banks and takeovers of car companies to health care reform, he said.