In what is shaping up as “the off-year Super Tuesday,” results tonight from primaries in 11 states will determine whether Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D.-Ark.) becomes the third senator this year to be denied renomination, if California Republicans put up two wealthy businesswomen for governor and senator, a comeback bid by a former four-term governor of Iowa for another term in the statehouse, and the outcome of the increasingly steamy (and ugly) Republican governor’s race in South Carolina.
And those are only some of the contests tonight that are attracting national eyes. In terms of initiative and referenda, California voters will decide on whether to end their traditional party primaries in favor of state contests in which all candidates regardless of party appear on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters meet in run-off to determine the winner.
A look, then, at some contests to keep your eye on:
Arkansas: Will Labor Lance Lincoln?
After barely coming in first in a three-candidate primary in May, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D.-Ark.) now squares off against the runner-up, leftist Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Despite Lincoln’s campaign help from Bill Clinton, Halter has the ground troops from the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union.
Also in the Razorback State, there are also run-offs in three of the four U.S. House districts where incumbent congressmen are stepping down.
California: Primaries, Primary Voting, and Pombo
Along with an initiative on whether to opt for a “non-partisan” primary for state and federal offices, the Golden State will hold Republican primaries to choose candidates to run against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) and certain Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former Gov. Jerry Brown.
The question in the GOP Senate primary is whether liberal former Rep. Tom Campbell can win a plurality over two conservatives, State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. In the gubernatorial primary, businesswoman Meg Whitman is considered the favorite over State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in a race that has focused lately on who is tougher on illegal immigration.
In the only open U.S. House district vacated by a Republican (the Central California 19th District, where Rep. George Radanovich is resigning), a comeback bid is being waged by former Rep. and House Environment Committee Chairman Richard Pombo. One of the nation’s top targets of environmental groups, Pombo represented a neighboring district until his defeat in ’06. This time, he faces a crowded primary that includes State Sen. Jim Denham, who has Radanovich’s endorsement.
Nevada: Who Against Harry?
Possibly the most-closely watched primary anywhere is that of Nevada Republicans to determine which of their dozen candidates will face Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Silver State sources say the winner is likely to come from their “Big Three” contenders: former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, who has support from the Tea Party Express and the home-school movement; former State GOP Chairman Sue Lowden, who is backed by much of the state GOP establishment and some pro-life groups; and attorney Danny Tarkanian, son of the legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry “Tark the Shark” Tarkanian.
Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, seriously wounded by feuding with the Democratic-controlled legislature and by an ugly divorce, is the underdog against Brian Sandoval, who resigned as a federal judge to make the race. The winner faces a Democrat with a well-known name: Rory Reid, Clark County commissioner and son of you-know-who (Harry Reid).
South Carolina: Palmetto State’s “Peyton Place” Primary
After lameduck Gov. Mark Sanford saw his dreams of a Republican bid for President (and his marriage) dissolve after “hiking along the Appalachian Trail” last year, the four-candidate Republican primary to succeed him has come to resemble a chapter from Grace Metallious’s steamy novel Peyton Place.
State Rep. Nikki Haley, who had the endorsement of Sanford’s former wife Jenny and of Sarah Palin, still holds onto the front-runner’s position following the accusations by two men of extramarital relations (she has heatedly denied the charges). In all likelihood, Haley will get one of the top two positions but could be forced into a runoff with another candidate. All the candidates for governors are considered conservatives.
There are heated Republican primaries to succeed outgoing GOP Reps. Henry Brown in the 1st District and Gresham Barrett in the 3rd. The most interesting is in the 1st (Charleston), where candidates include the sons of the late Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond and Gov. Carroll Campbell.
Still another son of a conservative hero is running for nomination as state attorney general: Alan Wilson, attorney, veteran, and son of the Rep. Joe Wilson.
Virginia: Will GOP Choose “Tea” Or “Regular?”
Three Republican U.S. House primaries in Virginia feature GOP regulars who have either held office or are close to the party establishments facing “outsiders” with support in the Old Dominion’s “Tea Party” movement: the 2nd District (Virginia Beach, Norfolk), where car dealer Scott Rigel is backed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell over five other contenders for nomination to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Glenn Nye; the 5th (Charlottesville), where State Sen. Robert Hurt faces two “Tea Party”-backed candidates for nomination against freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello; and in the 11th District (Northern Virginia) held by freshman Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, where ’08 nominee and businessman Keith Fimian squares off for the Republican nod against Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity, son of the late Fairfax County Board President Jack Herrity.
Iowa: Back to the Future
Republican Terry Branstad is one of a handful of American governors to win four four-year terms. After eight years in retirement, the conservative Branstad is now attempting a comeback and will vye against two other Republicans (one of whom has the endorsement of Mike Huckabee and Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family).
If successful, Branstad will compete for that rare fifth term for governor against embattled Democratic incumbent Chet Culver, son of former Sen. John Culver (D.-Iowa).
Five Republicans are competing for nomination to oppose veteran Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell in the marginal 3rd District (Des Moines).
New Jersey: Has Christie Gotten the Team Revved Up?
With the election of Republican Gov. Chris Christie and the national spotlight focused on his attempts to wrestle with the Garden State’s massive deficit, GOPers are flexing their political muscles this year. In the 3rd District (South Jersey), where a GOP civil war led to the election of Democrat John Adler in ’08, Republicans feel they have a chance for a comeback with former NFL great Jon Runyan, who became a local hero when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles.