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Primer on primaries

"Primer on primaries" Continued...

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

Pennsylvania, May 18

How is that party switch treating you now, Sen. Specter? The state's longest-serving senator, Arlen Specter, 80, is seeking a sixth term. But this would be his first victory as a Democrat. He abandoned the Republican Party last year to avoid a likely loss in the Republican primary. But now he finds himself in a single-digit fight against U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who calls himself the only real Democrat in the race. The home stretch has turned into a typical Northeast brawl: A Specter attack ad declares that Sestak was ousted as a Navy top officer because he had poor command skills. Sestak's response ad accuses Specter of "swift-boating" the former admiral: "Arlen Specter, don't lie about Joe Sestak's record," it says. At an hour-long debate May 1, the contestants feuded over Specter's use of notes at his podium. Specter, who enjoys the backing of the White House and the state's Democratic Party, says switching parties was a return to his roots. But voters don't seem sold yet.

HOUSE RACES

Florida, Aug. 24

Most of the political heat and light in the Sunshine State has come from its wild GOP senate primary, but Florida's 8th District House contest may prove another scorcher: At least seven Republicans are vying to challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Alan Grayson. The GOP primary winner will also face Peg Dunmire, an official Tea Party candidate in Florida. The race is notable for Grayson's withering assessment of the Tea Party movement. "I can tell you that they should be glad that healthcare reform has mental health coverage, because some of them need it," he told a Florida newspaper. Dunmire's run may draw voters away from the GOP, but political observers agree that the race in the fall will be a close one.

South Carolina, June 8

Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., draws a distinction between his first three terms in Congress (1993-1999) and his second stint that began in 2004. He calls them "Bob 1.0" and "Bob 2.0." In his race to retain one of the most conservative seats in the country, "Bob 2.0" is making the South Carolina primary in the 4th District one of the toughest yet. That's because Bob 2.0 voted against President George W. Bush's troop surge and against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He's also criticized popular conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and joined six other Republicans in voting to rebuke Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for shouting "You lie!" at the current president during a joint session of Congress.

Insisting he still has plenty of conservative credentials, Inglis points to votes against healthcare and stimulus spending. But top Republican opponent and county solicitor Trey Gowdy is picking up substantial Republican support.

Alabama, June 1

Incumbent Parker Griffith faces a tough fight in the state's 5th District GOP primary race for an unexpected reason: He's only been a been a Republican since December. Once a Blue Dog Democrat, Griffith angered fellow Democrats with his party switch, but Alabama Republicans weren't exactly awed: Some said he switched to hang onto the seat, making for a tight three-way race with Republicans Mo Brooks and Les Phillip.

Michigan, Aug. 3

Michigan's right-leaning 7th District has changed hands in the last three elections: going moderate Republican, staunch conservative, and then moderate Democrat. Staunch conservative Tim Walberg ("I was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party," he likes to tell reporters) lost the seat in 2008 and wants to take it back from incumbent Democrat Mark Schauer. But first Walberg must take on a political rookie who happens to be both a former Marine and part of the family that owns the Pittsburg Steelers. Brian Rooney moved 30 miles within the state to become eligible for the primary, a decision that has led to a carpetbagger label. But Rooney, whose 1-year-old son was born with a congenital heart defect, said he joined the race over fears of rationing in the new healthcare law. The Iraq War veteran's fresh face has won him the support of county party leaders. If voters decide to embrace the future over the past, then Rooney could join his brother Tom, a freshmen representative from Florida, in Washington.

Virginia, June 8

With Democrat Tom Perriello's victory the closest in the nation in 2008, at a 727-vote margin, many predicted a short congressional stay. And Tea Party nation has descended in force to this moderate-right 5th District: Seven Republicans are embroiled in a primary fight with six professing ties to various unaffiliated Tea Party groups in the district. After Perriello voted for healthcare reform in March, a local Tea Party organizer printed the congressman's home address, encouraging angry voters to drop by. Yet the fact that the organizer actually gave out the address of Perriello's brother appears to be not the only mistake by Tea Partiers, making GOP insider and state Sen. Robert Hurt a likely winner if the Tea Party crowd can't rally around one pick.

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