Maine, Nevada, North Dakota primary wrap-up

Maine: Summers wins GOP Senate primary as all eyes are fixed on former Gov. Angus King

In the race for the seat of retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), State Attorney General and centrist Charlie Summers — once Snowe’s top aide — topped the six-candidate Republican primary, while far-left State Sen. Cynthia Dill was the leader in the Democratic primary.

But virtually all reports from the state focused on the man who wasn’t there and leads in all polls on the race to succeed three-termer Snowe: former Gov. Angus King, who won both of his terms in the statehouse as an independent. The unpredictable King has said repeatedly he may caucus with either the Democrats or Republicans next year, depending on who holds the majority in the Senate.

But King-watchers universally agree that any GOP hopes of his signing on with them in the Senate are folly. The former governor supports Obamacare, rolling back the Bush tax cuts for people who earn more than $250,000 a year, supports caps on carbon dioxide emissions, and has been skeptical of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“He’s not an independent thinker,” State GOP Chairman Charlie Webster told Politico, “He was a Democrat. He came from Virginia. He became an independent because he’s a wealthy guy and couldn’t win a primary.”

Perhaps, but polls pitting him against any combination of Republican and Democratic opponents show King the clear winner this fall.

Nevada: Democrat Shelly Berkley, a Harry Reid protégé, takes on Dean Heller

No one was surprised by the nomination of Las Vegas-area Rep. Shelly Berkley as the Democrat to take on Sen. Dean Heller, a Reno-area Republican appointed to office last year after GOP Sen. John Ensign resigned over a sex-related scandal.

But the biggest bet in “gambling country” is whether Nevada’s senior senator, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, can call in enough political chits to elect his protégé, Berkley (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 12.02 percent).

Reid, who has known Berkley since she volunteered for his first race for the state legislature in 1970, has made her race a personal crusade. His top aide Zac Petkanas was dispatched to state Democratic headquarters to work with the Berkley Senate campaign and other Democratic efforts in the Silver State, and Reid’s own political action committee has been running attack ads against Heller (lifetime ACU rating: 89 percent).

With polls showing the race a dead heat, Democrats almost always mentioned Nevada as one of the two states where they feel sure they can dislodge a Republican senator — the other is Massachusetts. They note that the electorate is now more than 15 percent Hispanic. Republicans counter that they won the governorship in 2010 with a candidate of Hispanic heritage, Brian Sandoval, and that with a ticket of Mitt Romney and Dean Heller (both Mormons), the state’s growing Mormon population will be mobilized for the GOP.

North Dakota: Rick Berg takes first step to capturing Sen. Conrad’s Senate seat

Just as Democrats usually name Massachusetts and Nevada as their two best bets to pick up Republican-held Senate seats this fall, Republicans counter that the seats of retiring Democrats in Nebraska and North Dakota are their near-certain net gains in the Senate.

On Tuesday, after one term in the House, Rick Berg took the first step toward winning the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. Berg captured the Republican nomination by a margin of 2-to-1 over retired U.S. Navy officer Duane Sand, who has run for the House and Senate before.

But Berg is now apparently in a closer race than observers expected. A Mason Dixon poll conducted earlier in June showed Democrat and former State Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp in a near-tie, with Heitkamp at 47 percent and Berg at 46 percent.

“But that’s because she has just been on the attack on TV and Rick hasn’t responded,” former Republican State Rep. Gene Nicholas of Candu told Human Events, noting that the Democrat is now unleashing negative TV spots against Republican Berg. But, Nicholas predicted, “Rick will come back and when he starts the counter-attack, he’ll win.

In the primary for the Roughrider State’s lone U.S. House seat, former State Party Chairman Kevin Cramer was the easy winner over Brian Kalk. Both are state public service commissioners and considered conservatives, but Cramer had the blessings of several tea party groups as well as the Club for Growth.