Setting the Stage for November

Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Mich.) is retiring after his nationally watched cave-in on banning federal funding of abortion in the health carebill in March. The big question is not whether the Republican nominated Tuesday will pick up his House seat but which Republican.

Also in Michigan, a stalwart conservative who happens to be African-American may be nominated by Republicans in a safe Republican district once held by Gerald Ford.

In the primaries for governor of Michigan and U.S. Senate from Kansas, the bad news for the GOP is that these have been incendiary contests in which the leading candidates are conservatives who disagree on very little—except who should be nominated. The good news is that Democrats have next-to-no chance at winning either position and the Republican primaries Tuesday will be tantamount to election.

And in Missouri, two former state legislators are vying for the Republican nomination to take on veteran Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee. That Skelton—a “Harry Truman Democrat” who has been in Congress since 1976—is a target of such GOP interest is a sure sign that Democrats are right to be nervous about a possible Republican capture of the House this fall.

Some of the key races to watch Tuesday are:

Tornado in Dorothy’s Kansas

Like the tornado that swept Dorothy from Kansas to Oz, the Republican primary for the seat of retiring Sen. Sam Brownback (a cinch to be elected governor) is casting dark clouds over Sunflower State GOPers.

Reps. Todd Tiahrt (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 95%) and Jerry Moran (lifetime ACU rating: 91%) differ on next-to-nothing. Tiahrt is considered a bit more of a “movement conservative,” and has the backing of Sarah Palin, Gun Owners of America, and Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dobson. But Moran is no slouch in that department, and is backed by conservative GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.).

As the race grows more heated and sometimes personal in its twilight days, Republicans can take comfort from Democrats not having a strong candidate and not winning a Senate seat in Kansas since 1932.

In Moran’s 1st District (which Bob Dole held from 1960-68), six Republicans are running to succeed him. Conservatives fear that moderate realtor Tracey Mann might eke out a win in the crowded field, but it appears as though conservative activists are now rallying to State Sen. Tim Huelskamp and he has the last-minute momentum.

There appears to be less of a chance of a moderate winning the primary in Tiahrt’s Wichita-based 4th District. Conservatives dominate the GOP primary field. The favorite is Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo—although State Sen. Jan Schodorf appears to be coming on strong in the waning days. Millionaire businessman Wink Hartman seems to be running out of steam.

Perhaps the most intriguing race is in the 3rd District, which Republicans hope to pick up because seven-term Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore is retiring. Either state House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder or former State Rep. Patricia Lightyer would make a strong candidate, conservatives agree.

But much of the attention is on the Democratic side and the likely nominee: Stephene Moore, wife of the outgoing congressman. Although 46 widows of House members have succeeded their late husbands in Congress, there is only one case of a wife following her husband while he was alive. That was in 1926, when Republican Rep. John Langley was under indictment for illegal alcohol deals and stepped down. Wife Katherine Langley won his seat. A few years later, when Langley had cleared his name, he told his wife he wanted to run for his old seat. She said nothing doing, ran again, and was re-elected until her defeat in 1932.

Michigan Governor: Flip a Coin

All polls and political observers agree that the five-candidate Republican primary to succeed lame duck Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm is a toss-up between two-term State Attorney General Mike Cox and nine-term Rep. Pete Hoekstra.

Both are considered strong conservatives with few differences on the issues. Going into the balloting, Cox has the advantage because he has won statewide twice before and has the endorsement of Michigan Right-to-Life and the state Chamber of Commerce. Hoekstra (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90.84%) could benefit from big turnouts in two primaries for open House districts in his native Western Michigan.

The big fear among conservatives is that Cox and Hoekstra divide the right-of-center vote and thus permit a moderate candidate to squeak through. The moderate in question, multimillionaire businessman and political newcomer Rich Snyder, recently blitzed the state with ads urging Democrats and independents to support him (Michigan has no party registration).

With Lt. Gov. John Cherry passing on the Democratic nod to succeed Granholm, the race is between two B-team candidates—Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and state House Speaker Andy Dillon, or “far left versus the left,” as one Lansing wag put it. Whoever wins the Democratic nod will be a definite underdog to the Republican.

Michigan House Primaries

Most of the press attention will be focused on the 13th District (Detroit), where Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick seems increasingly likely to lose to Democratic primary challenger Hansen Clarke. Where some children blame their mothers for problems, Rep. Kilpatrick can justifiably blame her son: former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose actions in office (and in sending racy text messages to a female staffer) led to his removal from office and imprisonment. Angry voters could vent their anger on his mother.

In Stupak’s 1st District, voters’ anger is clearly focused on the retiring congressman and they are unlikely to elect another Democrat claiming to be “pro-life.” State Sen. Jason Allen, who has most of the party endorsements and a strong following among evangelical conservatives, is the front-runner among six Republicans. However, physician Dan Benishek was in the race before Stupak got out and has the backing of area Tea Partiers. Over the weekend, Benishek got swatches of publicity by touring the district with the celebrated “Joe the Plumber.”

Hoekstra left the safe Republican 2nd District to run for governor and early signs showed that his former aide, State Rep. Bill Huizenga, was the GOP’s heir apparent. But in recent weeks, the momentum has clearly shifted to Jay Riemersma, onetime University of Michigan quarterback and pro footballer with the Buffalo Bills. Like fellow Bills star Jack Kemp, Riemersma meshes a strong pro-family agenda (he was regional director for the Family Research Council) with an upbeat message of opportunity.

In the 3rd District (Grand Rapids) once held by President Gerald Ford (1948-73) and now being relinquished by Republican Rep. Vern Ehlers, GOP State Rep. Justin Amash started off with a bang. Running on a strong anti-government platform, the 28-year-old Amash secured the backing of the Club for Growth, Amway head and ’06 GOP gubernatorial nominee Richard DeVos, and local followers of Rep. Ron Paul (R.-Tex.).

But Amash may have been hurt by announcing before Ehlers made his retirement official. Moreover, in a district that historically favors sending to Congress older congressmen who were in local office a long time, the edge may be moving to State Sen. Bill Hardiman. A former mayor of Kenwood Township and African American, Hardiman is also considered a strong conservative and has strong backing in evangelical churches. The third major GOP hopeful is Steve Heacock, former head of the Van Andel Institute.

There are also vigorously contested Republican primaries for nomination to oppose freshman Democratic Reps. Mark Schauer (7th District) and Gary Peters (9th District)—another sign that the GOP is mobilizing to take back much of the ground it lost in House races in ’08.

Missouri Waltz: A Senate Race, Two House Primaries

There’s no real contest in the race for nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond. Seven-term Rep. Roy Blunt should have little trouble wrapping up the GOP nod and will face certain Democratic nominee and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, daughter of the late Gov. (1992-2000) Mel Carnahan and former Sen. (2000-02) Jean Carnahan. The fall race is sure to be close.

In Blunt’s 7th District, which has been Republican for 50 straight years, the edge in the primary goes to popular auctioneer and radio personality Billy Long. With the backing of revered former Rep. (1988-96) Mel Hancock and Mike Huckabee, Long is favored over State Sens. Gary Nodler (making his third race for Congress ) and Jack Goodman.

In the 4th District (Independence) held by the 78-year-old Skelton, former State Rep. Vickie Hartzler is the favorite over State Sen. Bill Stouffer. Both are strong conservatives.