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Primer on primaries

Campaign 2010 | With at least two prominent pols down, the run-up to Election 2010 starts off wild-and with at least 10 wild-card races

Issue: "GOP idea man," May 22, 2010

If Republicans are to make the big gains they predict this November, taking over the 40 seats needed to regain control of the House, then upsets will be needed in places once considered untouchable.

This month one untouchable went down: Democrat David Obey announced that he would not run for reelection. Obey has represented the 19,000 square miles of Wisconsin's 7th District since Richard Nixon was president and the Vietnam War was raging-1969. As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and the prime mover of last year's $787 billion stimulus package, Obey represents the big government mindset that's apparently going out of style among the nation's voters.

Republican Sean Duffy, a 38-year-old district attorney who wasn't even born when Obey first won his seat, was promising Obey the closest race of his career, but potentially faces a close primary contest himself in September.

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That change-up came on the heels of an announcement from Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida that he will run as an Independent, rather than face a tough GOP primary race against Marco Rubio for the open seat. Following is a look at 10 other House and Senate primary races worth watching but perhaps worth waiting to predict.

SENATE RACES

Arizona, Aug. 24

After taking considerable ribbing for ditching the label that marked his 2008 presidential campaign, McCain backtracked: "What I was saying is that I have considered myself a person who is a fighter. . . . I fight for the things I believe in, and sometimes that's called a maverick. Sometimes it's called a partisan."

Now with an unexpectedly competitive primary against former congressman J.D. Hayworth, McCain wants the mojo back. He's drifted right on issues like immigration and cap-and-trade as he fights for a seat he's held for almost 25 years. But despite Hayworth's attacks on McCain as less than conservative, McCain has a lead in the polls and support from figures that some conservatives love-particularly vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin.

Colorado, Aug. 10

With friends like Goldman Sachs, Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., may find new enemies: His primary challenger, Andrew Romanoff, is making the embattled investment bank's campaign contributions to Bennett a central battering ram of his campaign against the incumbent. It's helpful ammunition for Romanoff since he and Bennett seem to agree on most political issues. Bennett has said he isn't sure what his campaign will do with the money from Goldman ($6,300), while others have said they will return the company's contributions. If the Romanoff strategy works, it may signal blowback for candidates that voters see as tied to Wall Street.

Kentucky, May 18

Bowling Green ophthalmologist Rand Paul keeps winning new converts to be Kentucky's next senator. On May 3 Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, after receiving assurances of Paul's pro-life bona fides, switched his endorsement from GOP rival Trey Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state, to Paul. The son of firebrand Texas representative and 2008 presidential underdog Ron Paul has strong ties to the Tea Party movement and has gained a double-digit lead in the race to take over the GOP mantle from retiring Sen. Jim Bunning.

Paul has harnessed his father's considerable fundraising machine to amass more than $2.7 million from a bevy of out-of-state donors. At the same time, he portrays himself as a grassroots political rookie ready to take on federal expansion. Grayson is the GOP establishment's pick-former Vice President Dick Cheney and Senate Minority Leader and fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell have endorsed him-which could mean the kiss of death in this election year.

Nevada, June 18

Toppling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democrats' top lawmaker, is high on the GOP mid-term wish list. That is why next month's primary features no fewer than five contestants looking to notch a Reid defeat on their political belts. They include a former Miss New Jersey, the son of a famous basketball coach, and an investment banker returning home from New York. Despite the crowded field, a surprise star recently emerged in the race-a chicken. Frontrunner Sue Lowden, the former beauty queen turned anchorwomen turned casino executive, attacked the new healthcare law by suggesting bartering as a payment method for doctor's bills: "In the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor." Comedians like Jay Leno and rivals, even Reid, could not resist: chicken costumes and live fowl began appearing at Lowden's events. But the symbolism behind a Reid defeat is nothing to cluck at. So far Lowden has held her double-digit lead in the polls over top challenger businessman Danny Tarkanian, the son of former University of Nevada Las Vegas coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian. And both are running ahead of Reid in polls.

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