Primed for the fall

Politics | In a slew of primaries, the GOP ended up with an ideological mish-mash

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

In the biggest political day of the year thus far, voters in seven states went to the polls on June 4 to settle hundreds of intraparty nomination battles. Republicans ended up with a mish-mash of conservative nominees and liberals, political veterans and neophytes. With the most to lose in November, the GOP needed the biggest wins in June. Here's a look at some of the most interesting results:

Alabama In the closely watched governor's race, conservative Rep. Bob Riley swamped two lesser-known opponents for the right to face incumbent Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat. After 16 years of GOP rule, Mr. Siegelman swept into office in 1998 with promises of a statewide lottery that would fix the state's miserable public schools. Four years later, the lottery issue has receded amidst charges that Mr. Siegelman directed sweetheart contracts to his political cronies. "You need a governor who will go to Montgomery and work for you, not for his buddies," Mr. Riley said in his victory speech.

Though Mr. Siegelman took 73 percent of the vote in his primary against Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bishop, he may face a divided party in November. Mr. Bishop resigned from the state Democratic Party following his loss.

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Two congressional races also drew national scrutiny. In the rural, majority-black 7th District, 10-year veteran Rep. Earl Hilliard couldn't avoid a June 25 runoff with political newcomer Artur Davis. Mr. Hilliard, the first black member of the state's congressional delegation in 125 years, came under fire last month as one of just a handful of lawmakers who voted against a resolution supporting Israel in its fight against Palestinian terrorists.

And in the newly redrawn 3rd District, state Sen. Mike Rogers defeated two opponents to claim the Republican nomination. In November, he'll face former state Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham for the open seat that is considered a must-win if Republicans are to maintain their majority in the House.

Iowa Despite running a shoestring campaign from his mother's kitchen table, 33-year-old farmer Bill Salier grabbed more than 40 percent of the vote in his unlikely battle for the GOP Senate nomination. Rep. Greg Ganske, a moderate Republican, will face Sen. Tom Harkin, the Democratic incumbent, in the general election, but his weak showing in the primary means he'll have to campaign hard to win back disillusioned conservatives.

In the wake of a deteriorating state budget, first-term Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, is considered vulnerable, and three Republicans vied for the right to challenge him. Doug Gross, chief of staff to former GOP Gov. Terry Branstad, won the primary, but he'll need to replenish his campaign coffers quickly if he hopes to seriously challenge Mr. Vilsack, who faced no primary opposition.

After a late round of spending by national conservative groups, state Sen. Steve King surged to the top of the primary field in the heavily Republican 5th Congressional District. Still, because no candidate managed to eke out 35 percent of the vote in the four-way contest, the race will be decided by 589 delegates at a party convention slated for June 29. The eventual GOP nominee is considered a sure thing in the general election, because Republicans outnumber Democrats by 55,000 in this western Iowa district.

Montana After two top choices, former Gov. Marc Racicot and Rep. Dennis Rehberg, passed on a chance to challenge powerful Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Republicans gave the nod to state Sen. Mike Taylor, a wealthy gentleman farmer and a dead-ringer for Teddy Roosevelt. Mr. Taylor took 60 percent of the vote, while his nearest opponent, beauty-supply magnate Brad Johnson, garnered less than 20 percent. National GOP leaders were heartened by the margin of victory, because a closely divided party would have spelled doom in November.

As it is, Mr. Taylor faces a tough fight against Sen. Baucus, a four-term incumbent. As chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Baucus attracts big donations from the banking industry, and he has banked more than $5 million toward the November election. Still, President Bush carried Montana by 25 percentage points, and Mr. Baucus won his last election with barely 50 percent of the vote, so Mr. Taylor could make the race interesting.

New Jersey Another Northeastern state, another millionaire candidate. Businessman Douglas Forrester took a page from the playbook of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, spending more than $3 million of his own money to buy his way out of political obscurity. In the end, he won his three-way battle for the GOP Senate nomination, though two state senators, Diane Allen and John Matheussen, managed to hold him below 50 percent. Mr. Matheussen, the lone pro-lifer in the race, hoped to mobilize the party's conservative wing, but he ran a low-key campaign and was outspent by Mr. Forrester by roughly 30 to 1.


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