Four Things to Watch in Tuesday's Primaries

By Kyle Trygstad - July 30, 2010

Kansas, Michigan and Missouri voters go to the polls Tuesday to vote in primaries for governor, Senate and the House. Some of the outcomes will likely determine the general election winners, such as in heavily Republican congressional districts or the GOP Senate primary in Kansas. Others, like the gubernatorial primaries in Michigan, are setting up high profile races in November. Here is a rundown on four things to watch for Tuesday night as the results roll in:

MI-Gov: Tight Primary Races

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is term-limited and the primaries in the race to replace her are extremely competitive. Polling firm EPIC-MRA released polls Thursday on the two parties' primaries and found both up for grabs: On the Democratic side, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and state House Speaker Andy Dillon are 8 points apart; Republicans are even closer, with businessman Rick Snyder (26 percent), Attorney General Mike Cox (24 percent) and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (23 percent) just 3 points apart. Snyder and Bernero had led just one poll each before Thursday.

Three Republicans just went on the air with TV ads focusing on creating jobs and cutting taxes. Snyder -- whose "One Tough Nerd" Super Bowl ad already garnered wide notice -- took the unusual step of reaching out to Democrats and independents in his closing-argument ad. In the Democratic race, Bernero has picked up much of the major union support, while the more moderate Dillon has more money and TV ads.

Facts to remember: 1) Jobs are always a top issue in Michigan races, and it's especially true this year -- at more than 13 percent the state has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. 2) With Lt. Gov. John Cherry opting not to run, this is the first time since 1930 that no governor or lieutenant governor has been on the primary ballot. 3) Michigan has had only five governors since 1962, when George Romney was elected to the first of two terms.

KS-Sen: Battle of the Congressmen

Congressmen Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran have been engaged for months in a nasty campaign to replace outgoing Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who's running for governor. The winner of the GOP showdown should likely begin to make themselves at home on the north side of the Capitol, as Kansas hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932 and hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.

Tiahrt and Moran have several things in common: Both are approaching 60 years of age, giving up safe congressional districts they've held since the mid-1990s, and have similar voting records -- though Tiahrt's is a bit more conservative. The two have gone on the attack in TV ads, arguing against the other's conservative credentials, especially on immigration. And each can boast big-name conservative endorsements: Sarah Palin, James Dobson and Rep. Mike Pence endorsed Tiahrt; Sens. Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and John Thune have endorsed Moran.

Moran has led every public poll released on the race, all of which were conducted by SurveyUSA. The latest poll found Moran ahead by 14 points.

KS-1 & 4, MO-7: Open GOP Seats

With Moran, Tiahrt and Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt all giving up their seats to run for Senate, there's plenty of pent up political ambition and it's being showcased in the competitive races to replace them.

In Moran's 1st district, three candidates appear to have equal shots at winning. A SurveyUSA poll released this week found realtor Tracey Mann and state Sens. Jim Barnett and Tim Huelskamp all tied at 24 percent apiece in the six-candidate race. The massive 1st district -- which includes 69 counties and is larger than 25 states -- leans heavily Republican, and the winner will be heavily favored against Democrat Alan Jilka in the general election.

Tiahrt's 4th district could be a three-candidate race as well, as a SurveyUSA poll out Thursday found Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo ahead with 31 percent. He's followed by state Sen. Jean Schodorf, who's been surging in the polls, at 24 percent, and businessman Wink Hartman, an oil company executive who's loaned his campaign more than $1.5 million, at 23 percent -- an 8-point drop from two weeks ago. The winner will likely take on state Rep. Raj Goyle, who has more than $700,000 in the bank but, as a Democrat, will have trouble running in the Republican-leaning, Wichita-based district.

Eight Republicans are vying for Blunt's 7th district seat, which is open for the first time since 1996. The leading contenders are auctioneer Billy Long and state Sens. Jack Goodman and Gary Nodler. With $270,000 on hand, Long has a significant fundraising advantage over his opponents and also wields an endorsement from Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate.

All have argued they are the most conservative candidate -- as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted recently, "Conservatism is the coin of the realm" in this race. The district, located in Missouri's southwest corner, is the most Republican in the state, and McCain won every county in 2008.

MO-4: Skelton's Last Stand?

Democrat Ike Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has served in the House since 1976, which is the last time he was elected with less than 62 percent of the vote. Yet the 78-year-old appears headed for the most difficult challenge of his career. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved TV air time in Skelton's district for the lead-up to November, and the AP reports Skelton is already running ads in the district and has hired a slew of campaign consultants.

Nine Republicans are vying in Tuesday's primary to take on Skelton, though state Sen. Bill Stouffer and former state Rep. Vicky Hartzler are considered the frontrunners. Each has sought the conservative mantle while portraying Skelton as someone who will support the Democrats' agenda and help keep Speaker Nancy Pelosi in power. Both have decent campaign coffers -- as of July 14, Hartzler had $242,000 and Stouffer $196,000 -- though Skelton has nearly $1.4 million.

Skelton, a "Harry Truman Democrat," is regularly supported by Republicans, whose help he needs in order to be elected in the rural 4th district. Unlike the state as a whole, the district votes strongly Republican at the presidential level -- John McCain and George W. Bush both won with at least 60 percent in the last two elections.

Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad. ... 06550.html