Primary time: Let the political family feuds begin
AP National Political Writer
WASHINGTON – ‘Tis the season when Democrats and Republicans eat their own.
Eight months of primaries for party nominations get under way next week in House, Senate, gubernatorial and legislative races. The outcomes will set the stage for the first midterm elections of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Political siblings square off in these family feuds. Personalities and campaign organizations take on outsized importance while differences on issues typically take a back seat.
GOP incumbents and Republicans hand-picked by party leaders are facing spirited challenges from grassroots-supported candidates. No race epitomizes the battle for the GOP’s future more than the Florida Senate primary between Gov. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, a former state House speaker backed by anti-establishment “tea party” activists.
Democrats have their own internal battles. Among most notable are Senate primaries that drew challengers even though Obama endorsed the incumbents, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Michael Bennet in Colorado.
The Illinois primary is Tuesday, when voters choose candidates for the Senate seat Obama once held and nominees to seek a full term to replace the disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Among the races to watch between now and September:
Texas is home to the hottest GOP primary race. Rick Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, is trying to fend off Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, an indisputable Washington insider. The race is pitting the public’s anger at Washington against its anti-incumbent fervor.
Also keep an eye on South Carolina, where four GOP up-and-comers are competing: Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Attorney General Henry McMaster, Rep. Gresham Barrett and state Rep. Nikki Haley. South Carolina’s Republican victor is likely to win the general election. The state is conservative and it plays a large role in presidential primaries. GOP Gov. Mark Sanford, who famously skipped town last year to see his mistress in Argentina, is barred from another term.
California’s ultra-expensive race features former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, a billionaire, against Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a multimillionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Both have spent millions of their own money. The winner is all but certain to face Democrat Jerry Brown, 71 and a former governor who unsuccessfully ran for president. He’s California’s attorney general.
Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, woefully unpopular in a first term filled with controversy and marked by a bitter divorce, is seeking re-election. But he’s drawn at least two primary opponents. They include former federal judge Brian Sandoval, backed by national Republicans. The winner probably will go up against Democrat Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer also is facing at least two challengers. She’s getting hammered on tax issues and is a weak incumbent. She was never elected governor; the former secretary of state assumed the post when Democrat Janet Napolitano was named homeland security secretary.
In a race tinged by scandal and turning nasty, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is in danger of losing Tuesday because of his association with Blagojevich, who was expelled from office. Quinn, who twice ran as lieutenant governor on the same ticket as Blagojevich, is up against state Comptroller Dan Hynes.
A testy race also is expected in the Democratic bastion of Hawaii, where a Republican now holds office. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann are squaring off. The fall opponent is likely Republican Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona.
New York also may have a Democratic primary. Gov. David Paterson rejected White House overtures to step aside amid dismal poll numbers. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo may challenge him.
Crist, who was on Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 list of possible vice presidential running mates, had been the Florida front-runner for the Senate. But Rubio has pulled even in polls, propelled by grass-roots anger against Crist. The governor isn’t pure enough to some Republicans, who are outraged by his support for the federal stimulus package and his literal hug of Obama.
McCain is facing primary challenges from the right in Arizona for the seat he’s held since 1986. Opponents are former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a conservative radio talk show host, and Minuteman Civil Defense Corps co-founder Chris Simcox. McCain’s 2008 running mate, Sarah Palin, will campaign for McCain to validate his right-flank credentials.
In Nevada, nearly a dozen Republicans – none favored by GOP leaders in Washington – are seeking the chance to take on Harry Reid, who’s seen as vulnerable. Almost as many Republicans in Arkansas have lined up for the opportunity to face Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
Candidates preferred by national Republicans face strong challenges in two GOP-held open seats. Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson is in a surprisingly tough fight with businessman Rand Paul, the son of Texas congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul. Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is trying to beat back conservative Ovide Lamontagne and wealthy businessman Bill Binnie.
Specter ditched the GOP last year to avoid a primary – only to become a Democrat, get endorsed by Obama and find himself in a race against Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak. Specter will have more money and the establishment’s backing. But Sestak has grabbed the outsider role at a time when voters hate insiders.
Colorado Sen. Bennet was appointed to the seat to replace Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Obama came out early for the nonelected incumbent who has never run statewide. But that didn’t scare off Andrew Romanoff, a Denver lawyer and former speaker of the state House who tells people he’s the homegrown candidate – not a White House-favorite.
In Illinois, Democrats have no heavyweights in their lineup for the seat that Obama gave up for the White House. The front-runner is state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is only 33, hasn’t served a full term in office and previously worked for a family bank now in financial trouble.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is filling the remainder of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s term, has the primary to herself – for now. Former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. is flirting with a candidacy, even though the White House has made clear it’s fully behind Gillibrand. She’s never run statewide
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