It's been a long and fascinating primary season, with most of the heavy action on the GOP side, and that's largely how it will culimate with tomorrow's eight-primary event (Hawaii will vote on Saturday, and Louisiana holds its runoff on October 2) in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Delaware, DC and Wisconsin.
The only competitive Senate primaries in this batch are in New Hampshire and Delaware, and both are interesting because surging hard-right candidates in both states are threatening settled Republican assumptions that these seats are in the bag. Public Policy Polling officially set off GOP establishment panic late last night with new surveys showing self-styled "only conservative in the race" Ovide Lamontagne pulling within 7 points of long-time front-runner and prize NRSC recruit Kelly Ayotte in NH, and Christian Right firebrand Christine O'Donnell actually taking a narrow lead over congressman (and former governor) Mike Castle in Delaware.
Ayotte's still the favorite in New Hampshire, in part because her main tormenter during the campaign, heavy self-funder Bill Binnie, seems to be in a bit of a free-fall after running to her left on some issues (notably abortion), while a fourth candidate, another self-funder, Jim Bender, is taking some conservative votes away from Lamontagne. Lamontagne's main ace-in-the-hole is the characteristically outspoken support of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, which has been running frequent articles and editorials boosting their candidate and excoriating Ayotte. Just this weekend, after Ayotte's office released a boatload of emails to show she didn't (as Binnie charged) deliberately stay out of a notorious Ponzi scheme fraud case that hurt a significant number of New Hampshire citizens, the Union-Leader found a 2009 email exchange between Ayotte with a political consultant discussing a potential campaign, and plastered the embarassing news all over its front page.
Outside forces appear to be a minor factor in the New Hampshire race; Sarah Palin, who endorsed Ayotte back in July when Binnie was considered the only threat to her, did some robo-calls for her Granite State Mama Grizzly, and Jim DeMint offered Lamontagne a last-minute endorsement. In the back of every observer's mind is the fact that Lamontagne is the only candidate in the Republican field who has been running behind Democratic congressman Paul Hodes in general election polls.
In addition to the PPP poll, Magellan Strategies has just released a survey showing Ayotte up just four points over Lamontagne (35-31), with both Binnie and Bender fading in the stretch. Ayotte is still struggling against the relatively high negative perceptions fed by Binnie's earlier (and massive) ad attacks, but is holding most of her vote; the big question may be where former Binnie supporters wind up.
In Delaware, the state GOP has weighed in heavily in Castle's favor, buttressing a fairly broad establishment GOP attack on O'Donnell as something of a flake and a fraud (viz. a Weekly Standard article highlighting her 2005 gender discrimination lawsuit against the think tank of the campus-based conservative group ISI). Her shaky personal finances have also sparked some negative comments (perhaps aimed at Tea Party activists who are outraged at the mortgage-defaulting "irresponsible people" they think of as causing the housing and financial collapses). But unless PPP's numbers are way off, O'Donnell's achieved a major surge in support from conservatives long unhappy with Castle's moderate voting record in the House, and particularly his vote for climate change legislation. He is also considered the embodiment of the status quo in Delaware, having served in statewide office for thirty straight years. The last-minute endorsements she received from Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint and the NRA have the aroma of pols jumping on a fast-moving bandwagon rather than risky assistance to an underdog.
If O'Donnell does win, Democratic county executive Chris Coons, who's been running a respectable race against Castle, would probably become the instant front-runner in the general election. And even if Castle survives, the wounds of the increasingly nasty primary fight -- PPP found 55% of likely Republican voters calling Castle "too liberal" -- could give Coons some new momentum.
The other big statewide contest tomorrow is the GOP gubernatorial primary in Wisconsin, where Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former congressman (and the 1998 senatorial nominee who threw a scare into Russ Feingold) Mark Neumann are duking it out for the right to face Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker has long been the front-runner, but Neumann has self-funded his way to a significant advantage in air time. Though both candidates appear to be conventional pro-life conservatives, Neumann has boasted of significant Tea Party backing, but Walker has focused during the stretch drive on the former congressman's 1998 vote for a controversially expensive transportation bill. Walker remains the favorite to win, but it could be very close.
Space does not permit a full accounting of tomorrow's House primaries, but Democrats have just a few competitive races in competitive districts. In New Hampshire-2, vacated by Senate candidate Paul Hodes, Anne McLane Kuster is favored to defeat Katrina Swett, the daughter and wife of congressmen who is perhaps fatally associated with Joe Lieberman's political career. In Massachusetts-10, a potential Republican takeover seat, state senator Robert O'Leary and DA Bill Keating are in a close race to succeed retiring Rep. Bill Delahunt. In Rhode Island-1, where Patrick Kennedy is retiring, Providence Mayor David Cicilline is favored to win the nomination against two viable opponents for what could be a close November race. And in New York, embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel will likely survive a divided field of opponents to hang onto his House seat, though his struggle is bound to bring back poignant memories of his own upset win over Adam Clayton Powell forty years ago.
Republicans have a host of competitive primaries; in New Hampshire-2, free-spending Sean Mahoney has forced a close race with former Manchester mayor Frank Guinta. In MA-10, it's a battle of scandals with former state treasurer Joe Malone seeking to overcome financial irregularities in his office by drawing attention to rival ex-cop Jeffrey Perry's complicity in an illegal strip search of teenaged girls (Mitt Romney and Scott Brown are backing Perry).
In New York, there's a bitter and complex three-way GOP primary to choose an opponent for vulnerable Long Island Democrat Tim Bishop, in which the Conservatve Party nomination is a factor as well. In New York-23, the site of the 2009 special election intraparty disaster for Republicans, conservative Doug Hoffmann will again wage a third-party campaign if he loses a close race to Matt Doheney.
In Maryland, the Eastern Shore district represented by highly vulnerable freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil features a very competitive GOP primary featuring 2008 GOP nominee Andy Harris, who beat incumbent Republican Wayne Gilchrist in that year's primary and then lost to Kratovil, and self-funding businessman Rob Fisher, who's been endorsed by Gilchrist.
And in Wisconsin, three very credible GOP candidates are battling for the chance to oppose sophomore Democrat Steve Kagan. Former contractor Reid Ribble has spent the most money and led in the one public poll of the race.
Finally, there's the non-state primary tomorrow: DC's definitive Democratic primary for the mayoralty of our nation's capital. It's a rather strange primary: DC residents atypically have a positive attitude about Washington's direction, but seem to be leaning towards denying the re-election of Mayor Adrian Fenty in favor of District Council chairman Vincent Gray. There are significant signs of racial polarization in this contest, with the incumbent being accused of excessive concern for the interests of upscale gentrifying white citizens who have recently moved into the District, raising rental rates, while the challenger has also benefitted from a backlash against controversial school reforms. Given the strong national publicity linking Fenty to President Obama if the incumbent loses, and the equally strong national interest in Fenty's school reforms, the outcome may be over-interpreted no matter who wins.