Senate Primaries: What's At Stake : It's All Politics Voters in three states go to the polls today, with all three -- Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio -- featuring primaries for the Senate seats of Evan Bayh (D), Richard Burr (R) and George Voinovich (R), respectively.
NPR logo Today's Primaries: Senate Races In Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio

Today's Primaries: Senate Races In Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio

The primaries resume today, with three states holding contests:  Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio.  Here's what's at stake:


Two of the Republican candidates running to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh are seeking comebacks in their own right.  The GOP favorite, Dan Coats, was appointed to the Senate back in 1989 to replace Dan Quayle, who was elected vice president.  He won a special election in 1990 and a regular one in '92, but he retired in '98 — perhaps, as many suspected, because he knew he would have lost to the popular Bayh, a former two-term governor.

Coats and Hostettler, along with Marlin Stutzman, appear to be the leading GOP Senate candidates in Indiana. hide caption

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Since then, Coats has been a D.C. lobbyist and served President Bush as the U.S. ambassador to Germany and helped shepherd Bush's choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, a nomination later withdrawn.  Even before Bayh's surprise retirement, national Republican leaders recruited Coats for the race. 

Coats' lobbying activities, the fact that he lent his campaign $200,000, and the backing he got from the party establishment have emerged as a potential problem for him.  Conservatives also point out his vote to ban semiautomatic weapons while he was in the Senate.

RedState blogger Erick Erickson is no fan of Coats:

A lot of people like Dan Coats. That’s fine. I get beat up every day from people thinking I’m too hard on him. Never mind his actual record in the Senate or that he fled Indiana ten years ago to become a lobbyist and live in North Carolina.

I get it. Most of you do too.

We’re in a fight for our future. How does voting for Coats help in that fight when we’re going to have to fight for his seat all over again in six years. Do you really think he’s going to serve twelve in the Senate? He’ll be 73 at the end of his term should he win. The same guys who told us he’s the best choice for Republicans also told us Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter were the best choices.

Hoping to benefit from the skepticism about Coats is former Rep. John Hostettler, who was first elected to Congress in the GOP sweep of 1994 from the southwestern 8th CD, ousting Rep. Frank McCloskey (D).  A solid conservative who never blindly followed the GOP (or Bush) line, he was one of just six Republicans who voted against the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq.  In 2006, when the Democrats recaptured the House, Hostettler was clobbered by Brad Ellsworth, a local sheriff and a conservative on abortion and guns.

The third major Republican in the race is state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a conservative with signficant Tea Party support who also has the backing of the aforementioned blogger Erickson and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, an influential favorite of the Right.  (Sigh ... Stutzman buttons exist but I don't have any to illustrate for this blog post.)

Because Bayh dropped out of the race late in the game, Democrats have been spared the rigors of a primary; instead, the state party will pick the nominee, and it will be Congressman Ellsworth.

In the House, two Republican incumbents are facing what could be significant primary challenges: Mark Souder (R-03), a strong religious conservative, and Dan Burton (R-05), who was first elected in 1982.  Souder may be in more difficulty this year but Burton, in a solid GOP district, has had his differences with Republicans at home and in DC; two years ago he was held to under 52 percent in his bid for renomination.  Burton has the advantage of having six opponents in the primary, who could well split the sizable anti-Burton vote. Souder is getting hit by his leading opponent, car dealer Bob Thomas, for his 2008 vote on the TARP program.  In the 4th CD, Rep. Steve Buyer (R) is retiring and 13 Republicans are hoping to succeed him, led by Secretary of State Todd Rokita and state Sen. Brandt Hershman.


For the longest time, Democrats have insisted that first-term Sen. Richard Burr (R) is vulnerable in November.  I think it's far too soon to make that judgment, and both polling and financial reports show that the top three Democrats running in the primary are trailing the incumbent.  The most familiar face in the race is Elaine Marshall, the four-term secretary of state who ran once before for the Senate, losing the 2002 primary to Erskine Bowles.  She is thought to have a slight lead over Cal Cunningham, the choice of the D.C. Democratic establishment, a one-term state legislator who served in Iraq.  A recent Public Policy Polling survey shows Marshall, who has only recently gone on TV, opening up a 28 to 21 percent lead over Cunningham, Thought to be running well back in third is Ken Lewis, an attorney who has been getting endorsements from the African-American community, including those from former Senate nominee Harvey Gantt, Reps. Mel Watt & G.K. Butterfield, and ex-Rep. Eva Clayton.  If no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote, as required by North Carolina law, the top two finishers will advance to a June 22 runoff.


Democrats feature two statewide elected officials who hope to take the Voinovich Senate seat from the GOP. hide caption

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For a race that from the beginning seemed signficant — an open seat in a state won by Barack Obama — it's been hard finding excitement in the race between Democrats Lee Fisher, the lieutenant governor, and Jennifer Brunner, the secretary of state.  It's for the seat being vacated by two-term Republican George Voinovich.  It seems that the real issue between Fisher and Brunner is who can win in November.  That — and Fisher's overwhelming money advantage, which has him commanding the airwaves — seems to be what has propelled Fisher into a seemingly commanding lead, at least in the polls.  A Quinnipiac survey released yesterday had Fisher, who lost the 1998 gubernatorial race to Bob Taft (R), up 20 points over Brunner.  But Kelley Bell-Wenzlaff, blogging in Huffington Post, sees the Democratic primary as a real "horse race":

Money does matter, but Americans love an underdog and ... Brunner is running a Seabiscuit race. She is running on a shoestring budget with little support from Democratic leadership and yet continuously finishes strong in the polls. ...

Fisher is a talented orator with a long record of political experience and the ability to bring people to the table and get things done. ... He is running an insiders campaign, gathering money from high profile donors who predictably play the odds. (In politics, everybody likes to back a winner, and more than a few politicos are going public for Fisher because he is the safe bet...which if he wins is...*BONUS*...good for their own interests too.) For some voters though, this kind of politics is a huge turn off.

The unopposed Republican nominee is Rob Portman, a former congressman who later served as the Bush trade representative and budget director.

The gubernatorial race is set:  Incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland faces former Rep. John Kasich (R).