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Primaries in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina Begin to Set Stage for Midterms

3 years ago
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In Indiana, former Sen. Dan Coats continued his march on the comeback trail, besting four other Republican challengers in Tuesday's primary election and setting up a November contest in which he will be the likely favorite to capture the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Evan Bayh.

Coats' opponent will be Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth, a former police officer and county sheriff, who is serving in his second term in Congress.

Coats retired from the Senate in 1998 and served as ambassador to Germany during the presidency of George W. Bush. He hasn't lived in Indiana in several years, but such is the power of his name that Bayh announced that he would not run for re-election only four days after Coats declared his candidacy.

Voters went to the polls in neighboring Ohio, too, as well as in North Carolina on a spring day characterized by mild weather and tepid turnout.

In Ohio, the race to watch pitted Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher against Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner for the Democratic nomination to fill the Senate seat of Republican George Voinovich. Although Brunner is a statewide officeholder, Fisher was the clear choice of the Buckeye State's Democratic establishment and Brunner could not make up the difference in fundraising, name identification or endorsements.

Although he won more easily than expected, Fisher faces a strong challenge in the autumn from former GOP House member and Bush Cabinet official Rob Portman, the Republican nominee. One gauge of the Democrats' worries about their November opponent was the speed with which Democratic Party chief Tim Kaine trashed Portman on Tuesday night as a man who had "pursued policies that proved disastrous for Ohio's working families and sank our economy into a recession."

In the Tar Heel state, Democrats have hopes of snagging a Republican Senate seat -- one that could offset any loss in Indiana -- but they will have to wait a while longer for their nominee.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, the top two vote-getters in the Democratic Senate primary, will compete in a June 22 runoff for the chance to meet Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Burr in November. The Associated Press projected neither would receive 40 percent of the vote. Unofficial returns showed Marshall leading with 36.7 percent and Cunningham at 26.9 percent.

Marshall, 64, was supported by several women's groups, the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and The Charlotte Observer, which cited her work on lobbying and ethics reforms. Although she was not the Washington establishment's choice, she led Cunningham, a 36-year-old attorney and one-term state senator, throughout the evening. Ken Lewis, with 17.3 percent, finished third. Three other candidates finished in single digits.

Burr easily won his primary race against challengers Eddie Burks, Brad Jones and Larry Linney.

But Burr's cautious victory announcement foreshadowed a close general election campaign. "I am honored to have received my party's nomination," Burr said in a written statement. "However, this is just the beginning and it will be a long road to November."

November's race will be closely watched with Burr, a freshman Republican senator in a state won by candidate Barack Obama in 2008, on the ballot. During the campaign, Burr said he was confident that his opposition to President Obama's policies would be rewarded in November with a second Senate term.

In another North Carolina contest with national implications, U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell won his District 8 Democratic race against challenger Nancy Shakir. Kissell angered some Democrats for his vote against the health care reform bill. Shakir had criticized him as too conservative for the party.

Kissell's GOP opponent will be decided in a runoff between Tim D'Annunzio and Harold Johnson.

Despite the number of contested races, voter turnout was estimated to be less than 15 percent in many parts of the state.

Indeed, low turnout and the public's sour mood seemed to taint the victories of even the surviving candidates in all three states.

Dan Coats' victory, for example, was hardly indicative of a groundswell of unanimous support. Republicans have high hopes in Indiana in 2010, and GOP candidates lined up five deep in hopes of becoming Bayh's replacement. But Coats won with only 39 percent of the vote. State Sen. Marlin A. Stutzman, who had the backing of Indiana's Tea Party conservatives as well as South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, came in second. Third place went to former Rep. John Hostettler.

Likewise, in the Hoosier state, 14-term incumbent Rep. Dan Burton narrowly fended off the challenge of six fellow Republicans. And, Rep. Mark Souder turned back the spirited bid of self-financed car dealer Bob Thomas, who characterized Souder as a career politician who was not a true conservative when it came to federal spending.

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