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Governor and Senate Primary Updates

A Commentary By Larry J. Sabato

Thursday, June 10, 2010

With the biggest primary night of 2010 now over, more and more of the midterm picture is coming into focus. The Crystal Ball  brings you the following quick takes from the hottest Senate and Governor primary races that were decided this week:

ARKANSAS Senate:  In the biggest upset of the June 8th primary night, two-term Sen. Blanche Lincoln narrowly defeated Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in the Democratic Senate runoff. Halter had been backed by a liberal and labor coalition determined to send a message to Blue Dog Democrats who vote a moderate line. But Lincoln had a powerful ally in former President Bill Clinton. Even though Halter had worked for Clinton, Lincoln had Clinton by her side and in her TV ads, and he went after his allies in labor who had targeted Lincoln. So Arkansas’ runoff record is intact: Not since 1942 has the second place finisher in the first primary beaten the candidate who placed first. Still, the Democratic left has made its point to Blue Dogs everywhere. Now the right will probably make its point in November. In this 59% McCain state, the likely next senator is GOP nominee Congressman John Boozman (R). Lincoln has gotten some new momentum from her unexpected victory, though, so maybe she’ll be more competitive than she would have been without the primary challenge.

CALIFORNIA Senate and Governor: Two wealthy women will carry the GOP banner in November, though both start out as slight underdogs to their Democratic opponents, thanks to California’s heavily Democratic nature. Republican Meg Whitman, formerly of eBay, will oppose former Gov. Jerry Brown (D), formerly of the Moon. Carly Fionina (R), once the controversial head of Hewlett-Packard, will try to take down three-term Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). Brown and Boxer lack energy and novelty, and they will have to push party label and ideology to get the attention of an unhappy electorate that may respond to the massive spending and “new ideas” of this unusual pair of GOP nominees.

IOWA Governor:  Ex-Gov. Terry Branstad (R), who has already served 16 years as chief executive, may well get another four. He is favored over unpopular one-term Gov. Chet Culver (D). Branstad posted an underwhelming ten-point victory in his party’s primary, but that shouldn’t slow him down too much.

MAINE Governor: We now know the party nominees but not a whole lot more. Democrat Libby Mitchell, the state Senate president, will face off against Republican Paul LePage, the mayor of Waterville. But independent Eliot Cutler, who once worked for Senator Ed Muskie (D-ME), is a serious candidate. Maine likes independents, with three gubernatorial terms having been filled by two independent governors since the 1970s. Good luck figuring this one out until the fall.

NEVADA Senate and Governor:  Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) became the first incumbent to be sent packing from a statehouse in 2010. Former Judge Brian Sandoval, the first Hispanic from Nevada to ascend to the federal bench, dispatched him easily. Sandoval is a heavy favorite over local official Rory Reid (D), son of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. Oddly, Harry Reid’s future looks brighter after the GOP chose Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle to be their Senate nominee. Angle defeated Sue “Chickens for a Checkup” Lowden and Danny Tarkanian, but she has some views that will be tough to sell in November, such as phasing out Social Security and supporting nuclear waste storage in Nevada. On the other hand, Reid can’t seem to climb much above 40%. With “none of the above” and several other candidates on the ballot, Reid can win with a plurality, and for the first time this year, we move this contest out of the Lean Republican category and put it into Toss-up. Still, Reid is unpopular and will have to scrape for the votes he needs to win. His $9 million war chest will help.

SOUTH CAROLINA Governor:  Remarkably, Nikki Haley survived and even prospered in the midst of two allegations of marital infidelity. Despite all the smoke, voters either decided there was no fire, or they preferred not to acknowledge the fire because it was started by two male cads. Haley easily finished first in the Republican primary with 49%, almost enough to avoid a runoff. Congressman Gresham Barrett grabbed second place with 22%. Haley starts out as the heavy favorite in the June 22 runoff, but Barrett has an outside chance if he can get the endorsements of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster. And who knows what revelations might pop up over the next two weeks? On the other hand, national GOP leaders have all but endorsed Haley and are trying to get Barrett to concede and cancel the runoff. Meanwhile, state Sen. Vince Sheheen won a large majority in the Democratic primary. He’s an articulate, attractive nominee but faces difficult odds and will need some big breaks to become competitive in the conservative Palmetto State.

SOUTH DAKOTA Governor:  No surprises here. Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard swept to victory in the GOP primary and is a solid favorite to defeat the Democratic nominee, state Sen. Scott Heidepriem. Retiring Gov. Mike Rounds (R) has maintained high popularity, and he will help Daugaard considerably.

 

CB Governor Ratings

 

CB Senate Ratings

Larry J. Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.  

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