It’s Primary Day! Some Themes to Look For…

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Ten states are holding primaries today, making it the biggest election day until the November general election midterms.  Politico has a roundup of some of  the key races here, so I’m not going to duplicate their coverage.  Instead, I want to focus primarily on those races that seem particularly relevant to the two dominant election themes this election cycle that I’ve posted about before: the growth of the anti-incumbent sentiment (including but not restricted to the Tea Party movement), and the decline of the moderate middle in Congress. But there’s also an interesting gubernatorial race in Iowa that may have implications for the 2012 presidential election. Keeping these themes in mind, what are the most significant primaries today, and what will the outcomes in these races tell us, if anything, about November’s midterms?

In Arkansas, two-time incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln is in a tough fight with the more progressive Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.  (This is the runoff election dating from May 18, when no one captured 50 percent of the Democrat primary vote.) Lincoln, you’ll recall, was one of the Democratic holdouts on the health care bill and she ranks as among the most centrist members of Congress – part of that moderate middle whose ranks have been depleted in recent years.  Will she be the next to go?  Note that Obama has endorsed Lincoln – in recent races that has usually spelled defeat for the endorsed candidate (although not necessarily because of the endorsement)!

In Nevada, three Republican candidates are vying for the opportunity to take on Senate Majority leader Democrat Harry Reid come November.  The current front-runner in the polls is Sharron Angle, who has the backing of most (but not all) Tea Party activists.

In California, meanwhile, three-term incumbent Senate Democrat Barbara Boxer is viewed by some as vulnerable come November, making the outcome of the Republican primary in that state today of particular interest.  Polls suggest that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is the Republican front-runner.  Fiorina has deep pockets and if she wins the Republican primary she would give Boxer a very very tough race come November.

Of course, with all the focus on the Senate, it is easy to overlook the House races.  Several moderate incumbents are in danger of losing to more extreme candidates in the primary.  One is Democrat Jane Harman, who represents California’s 36th district.  She’s being challenged from the Left by teacher Marcy Winograd.  If I can, I’ll try to do a separate post on key House races later today.

Finally, in Iowa, both Democrats and Republicans are holding primaries to determine who will carry the party banner in the race for Governor.  Whoever wins will be the face of the party come 2012, when Iowa will hold their highly-publicized presidential caucus.  As a result, potential presidential candidates in 2012 have a stake in this race – they want to back the winner.  On the Republican side, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has a lead in the polls over Bob Vander Plaats.  Both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney are backing Branstad.  Mike Huckabee supporters Vander Plaats, his 2008 campaign co-chair.

In light of Rand Paul’s recent primary victory, we should pay attention to those races in which the Tea Party has backed an anti-establishment candidate.  The Nevada Senate Republican primary is one such race.  But the Tea Party’s influence may be stronger in the less publicized House races that are down ticket. Part of the Tea Party’s problem, however, has been a tendency for its supporters to split their vote among many candidates.   If I can do a post on the House races, I’ll try to identify those in which the Tea Party has backed a candidate.  I welcome comments from the political junkies out there who may be more familiar with those races in which the Tea Party has been actively involved.

Keep in mind that all these elections are taking place in what Gallup polling (see chart below) suggests is the most inhospitable climate for incumbents since the wave election in 1994.

Stay tuned. I’ll try to post later tonight or tomorrow assessing the results and what they may portend for November.

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