Voters Head To Polls In 3 Midwestern States

Three Midwestern states hold primaries on Tuesday — Kansas, Missouri and Michigan. Most of the suspense is in Michigan, where both parties have competitive races for governor. NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin runs down the races with Michele Norris.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And Im Michele Norris.

Today is primary day in three states: Kansas, Michigan and Missouri. The main event in Kansas is the open Senate race, where two Republican congressmen are leaving the House to run, and that battle has gotten particularly nasty. Both parties are fielding candidates in Michigan to succeed Governor Jennifer Granholm. And in Missouri, there is a Senate race plus a ballot initiative that will be the nation's first referendum on the new health care bill.

NPR political editor Ken Rudin is here in the studio and joins me to discuss whats at stake today.

Ken, let's start with Kansas where Senator Sam Brownback is leaving to run for governor. That opens up his Senate seat. Tell us quickly about the two candidates and whats the real difference between them.

KEN RUDIN: Well, not much differences between the two Congressmen, Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt. They're both conservative. They're both in their 50's, both elected to Congress around the same time.

The name of the game in Kansas is the Republican primary. No Democrat has won a Senate rate there since 1932. Its the longest streak in the country, so whoever wins today's primary between Tiahrt and Moran is going to be the next senator. So they're battling each other. One says the other is raising taxes. The other one says theyre soft on earmarks.

Conservatives have a big stake in this. Sarah Palin is backing Tiahrt. But Jim DeMint, the senator from South Carolina - who's a would-be kingmaker of his own - is backing Jerry Moran.

Whoever wins the primary is going to be the next senator and thats why it's gotten so nasty. Ideologically there's not much difference between the two. If anything, Tiahrt is more of a social conservative - a lot of anti-abortion groups are backing Tiahrt.

NORRIS: In Michigan, Governor Granholm is term-limited so she'll be stepping away from office. Who's running in that race and what are the key issues in Michigan, where the economy is always a big issue?

RUDIN: Well, Jennifer Granholm once upon a time was very popular. She was a rising star. They were going to change the Constitution to make her eligible to run for president. She was born in Canada, of course. Now her numbers have been very bad. Unemployment is rising, the economy has long been in turmoil, manufacturing jobs have been lost, so the Republicans think they really have a good shot.

There are three top Republicans who are running for this. Mike Cox is the state attorney general. He's one of the attorneys generals who have filed a lawsuit against the national health care bill. Pete Hoekstra is a congressman from Michigan who got the support of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, was governor in the '60s.

And Rick Snyder, he's the former president of Gateway Computers. He's running more of a moderate. He's talking less about abortion and more about the economy and things like that. And he is the most moderate candidate of the race. He may be the favorite going in to today's primary.

NORRIS: Let's head to Missouri. There's a contest there to replace retiring Republican Senator Kit Bond. Whats happening for that race?

RUDIN: Well, it seems pretty likely who the nominees are going to be. Roy Blunt is the former House majority whip. He left the leadership in the House after the Republicans got clobbered in 2006, 2008. He's run for governor once before. His son used to be the governor for one term. He's running for the Senate. He faces a Tea Party challenger but he's likely to win that.

On the Democratic side, Robin Carnahan is the secretary of state. Her father was a very popular governor, who was elected to the Senate three weeks after he died in a plane crash in 2000. Her mother, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to that Senate seat. Robin Carnahan will be the Democratic nominee. Very close race, perhaps Blunt has a slight edge going into November.

NORRIS: And Robin Carnahan's brother, Russ Carnahan, who also serves in the House.

RUDIN: Serves in Congress, right.

NORRIS: Now, there's also that proposition that would exempt Missourians from being part of the health care bill that Congress recently passed. Can you tell us quickly whats going with that?

RUDIN: Well, it's called Proposition C. Roy Blunt supports it. Robin Carnahan opposes it. It would exempt Missouri from the federal health care bill. Now, whether - even if it passes, and many people think it will pass - it'll probably be determined by the federal courts. Some people say it's unconstitutional but it'll give opponents of so-called Obamacare perhaps a talking point to show that at least in Missouri, the first state to weigh in on the new health care law, it's failed the test here.

NORRIS: Thank you, Ken.

RUDIN: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That's Ken Rudin. He's NPR's political editor and his blog, Political Junkie, can be found at NPR.org/junkie.

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