Editor's note: As the first primary Super Tuesday approaches, we've asked Politics Daily writers around the country for their latest perspective on what to expect in the various races. As results become available, we'll update the various sections with results and further analysis, so be sure to check back as the returns come in.
Update, May 18:
Jill Lawrence reports here on Rand Paul's victory in Kentucky
and the latest in the Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln races.
Jill Lawrence: Will Arlen Specter Be the Next Victim of Anti-Incumbent Fever?
Pennsylvanians will send the nation signals Tuesday about two of the most pronounced trends of this midterm election year: anti-incumbent sentiment and energized Republican voters.
The first will come when Democrats decide whether to retire Arlen Specter, the state's longest-serving senator and one of its newest Democrats. Specter, seeking a sixth term at age 80, went into primary day in a dead heat with Rep. Joe Sestak, a retired admiral who likes to rock the boat. A Quinnipiac Poll conducted May 12-16 had the race at Sestak 42 percent, Specter 41 percent.
The second showcase contest is another horse race, this one a special election to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha in the 12th Congressional District. The race pits Democrat Mark Critz
, a top Murtha aide based in Johnstown, against Republican business entrepreneur Tim Burns
. Both parties are hoping to claim momentum going into November, but the winning margin could be slim. Public Policy Polling
found Burns with a 1-point lead over Critz, 48 percent to 47 percent, in a poll taken May 15-16.
Specter has tried to make the Senate nomination race about his long record of bringing money, projects and jobs to his state, and reports that a poor command climate
forced Sestak, a three-star admiral, to end his 31-year Navy career. Sestak and his allies say he was in the crosshairs
because he was assigned to recommend ways to cut costs in the Navy. He has refused to release his military records.
The bottom line from Sestak's standpoint is Specter's decision in April 2009 to become a Democrat after nearly 29 years in the Senate as a Republican. Sestak calls himself "the Democrat" in the primary and Specter "the poster boy" for a Washington establishment that badly needs a shakeup. He highlights Specter's role as an ally to GOP presidents back to Reagan, and one of his TV spots shows Specter with George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. "He is a Democrat out of convenience," Sestak said in an interview.
Specter says he has good friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress. "I have maintained the same positions" regardless of party, he said in an interview. Though he compiled a moderate record, Specter is perhaps best known for leading the 1991 charge against Anita Hill
, the law professor who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. He has tacked left since his party switch, most recently when he said he had an "open mind
" about Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court despite having voted against her confirmation last year as solicitor general.
Walter Shapiro: Rand Paul and the Kentucky Horse Race
The winner of the Specter-Sestak battle will face Republican Pat Toomey
– a former congressman, former president of the influential, anti-tax Club for Growth, and the reason Specter decided to change parties. Toomey nearly ousted him in a Republican primary six years ago. Specter said when he became a Democrat that his chances in a rematch with Toomey were bleak in a primary dominated by increasingly conservative Republican voters.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Standing in a downtown square in his home town late Monday afternoon, Rand Paul ended his improbable march toward the Republican Kentucky Senate nomination by declaring, "The 'Field of Dreams' is if you build it, they will come. I guess the Tea Party is if you say it, they will come." Paul, the 47-year-old son of Texas congressman and libertarian gadfly Ron Paul, has taken a sleepy GOP Senate race primed for establishment candidate Trey Grayson and transformed it into a national referendum on the ideological direction of the Republican Party.
With Paul holding a double-digit lead in all recent published polls, Grayson, 38, is reduced to hoping for a one-vote mandate in Tuesday's primary. The two-term Kentucky secretary of state, endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Monday morning at a Louisville airport press conference, "I don't care about the margin of victory. I just want to win." Grayson, a conservative who has run a safe, make-no-waves-or-news campaign, was reduced to complaining about (yes) the unfairness of Fox News in embracing Rand Paul. "He's on Fox News every couple of weeks with softballs," said Grayson, who grumped that he has appeared just once on the national cable channel.
There is also a tightly fought Kentucky Democratic Senate primary between State Attorney General Jack Conway and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who narrowly lost a 2004 Senate race. With virtually all polls pointing to a razor-thin finish, the horse race question (this is the Blue Grass state, after all) is whether Conway's late-charging momentum can overcome Mongiardo's early lead, partly based on his populist Dr. Dan image as an ear, nose and throat surgeon working in the coal country of eastern Kentucky.
The Democratic Senate primary (and the Paul-Grayson contest, as well) will be heavily influenced by uneven turnout patterns across the state, depending on whether there are hot races for local office. As a Democratic strategist, trying to calculate the reverberations from a sheriff's primary in a rural western Kentucky county, put it, "All the turnout is local. People vote for their county judge and other officials. Washington and the Senate is just an after-thought."
Kentucky itself will probably be a political after-thought if an orthodox Republican candidate like Grayson wins the primary in a state where no Democratic presidential candidate has received more than 41 percent of the vote since Bill Clinton. But Paul, whose small-government conservatism has him calling for raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 and was opposed to the Medicare prescription drug benefit, offers a tempting target for Democrats hoping to pick up the Republican-held Senate seat of the retiring Jim Bunning. So a Rand Paul victory Tuesday night signifies six more months of Kentucky as one of the biggest national playing fields for Tea Party-style politics.
Suzi Parker: Arkansas Senate Race: Can Blanche Lincoln Win?
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- After weeks of political ad bombardment, Arkansans hit the polls Tuesday to decide whether incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln can hold on to her seat.
Lincoln, the state's senior senator, has faced a bitter primary battle
against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. She played the middle for months, especially during the health care reform debate. Her moderate stances -- she was against a government-run insurance option -- didn't sit well with supporters who wanted her to take a stand either against or with one of President Barack Obama's signature initiatives.
On Monday, Lincoln chose to campaign on comfortable stomping grounds – Arkansas' First Congressional District, which she represented in Congress from 1993 to 1997. Halter decided to traverse the state, making 20 stops in 25 hours
"I feel very good," Halter said in a phone interview while traveling in eastern Arkansas. "I go into these coffee shops all over the state and they have been extraordinarily generous with their remarks and are very glad to see change going on."
Lincoln went into primary day with a single-digit lead. A Daily Kos/ Research 2000
poll last week showed Lincoln with 46 percent to Halter's 37 percent, with 6 percent for businessman DC Morrison
and 11 percent undecided. Political watchers think a June 8 runoff is likely. A candidate must get 50 percent to win to avoid a runoff and win the nomination outright.
The Republicans could also be facing a runoff, with eight candidates on the primary election ballot. Rep. John Boozman
leads seven other contenders in polls. Former state senators Jim Holt and Gilbert Baker are in the teens, according to the Daily Kos / Research 2000 poll. Holt ran against Lincoln in 2004 and received 44 percent. Boozman's late brother, Fay, ran unsuccessfully against Lincoln in her first Senate run in 1998.
Halter has focused his campaign on taking change to Washington. He has touted his ability to take on anti-establishment groups that tried to prevent a lottery bill initiative, which he championed as lieutenant governor. The lottery will contribute millions to college scholarships.
Halter hit Lincoln on myriad issues, including her Goldman Sachs and WellPoint
donations, cutting Social Security and Medicare, and a tax cut for the wealthy – people with $10 million plus in wealth – during a time of mounting national debt.
Lincoln touts her position as chair of the Senate Agriculture
Committee in ads and on the campaign trail. She is the first woman and first Arkansan to hold that position. She has also defended her moderate positions, saying that she will agree, or disagree, with Obama based on what is best for Arkansans. Obama and former president Bill Clinton cut radio ads for Lincoln.
She has repeatedly complained that she is the focus of negative ads. But groups like Americans for Job Security
and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have spent millions on her behalf, accusing Halter of outsourcing jobs to India. The Halter campaign has vehemently denied the accusations.
For all the attention on the Democratic and Republican Senate primaries, there's been considerably less focus on the state's four congressional races – three of which are open seats. The get-out-the-vote effort in these three could greatly affect the outcome of both parties' Senate races.
It's likely that the November ballot won't be entirely clear Tuesday night. Arkansans should brace for another round on June 8.