Candidates Feel the Pressure in Coming Primaries

Primary elections will take place Tuesday in nine states and the District of Columbia. Among them: The Arizona Republican primary, for the 8th Congressional District of retiring Congressman Jim Kolbe, where the big issue is illegal immigration; also, New York's democratic primary, where Hillary Clinton is a shoe-in for her Senate seat — but her challenger has forced her to articulate her position on the Iraq war.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

This Tuesday, nine states and the District of Columbia will hold primary elections, and we're going to take a look now at some of those races.

This year's primaries are being closely watched because polls show Republican majorities in Congress at risk. One place where Republicans could lose a House seat is in Arizona's 8th district. Congressman Jim Kolbe is retiring. Five Republicans are hoping to replace the moderate congressman, three of them serious contenders.

Here's how reporter Jon Kammen(ph) of the Arizona Republic describes the contest.

Mr. JON KAMMEN (Arizona Republic): In the last couple of weeks, this race has gone from contentious to really acrimonious.

ELLIOTT: The front runner is Randy Graf, a hardliner on immigration. He's backed by the Minutemen volunteer border monitors.

Mr. KAMMEN: Basically he wants to seal the border and he has advocated building a fence and he has advocated having local law enforcement take a much more active role in returning illegal immigrants to their countries. He's very much a hardliner and he has a great deal of appeal in the southern part of the district which does border Mexico.

ELLIOTT: But reporter Jon Kammen says voters in the district at large tend to be moderate, so the Republican establishment wants someone other than Randy Graf. Party leaders are backing former state Senator Steve Huffman, the one candidate they think can beat a Democrat.

Mr. KAMMEN: I had the irony of quoting one of the candidates, Mike Helen, just last week as saying that powerful insiders are trying buy a Congressional seat. And he's talking about his own party.

Republicans have now put a quarter of a million dollars of independent expenditures into the campaign of Steve Huffman, and yet the latest poll shows that Randy Graff is still ahead.

ELLIOTT: Now across the country to New York. You're excused if you didn't know that Senator Hillary Clinton is facing a challenger in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Here's reporter Glenn Thrush of Newsday.

Mr. GLENN THRUSH (Newsday): What's going on here in New York is Hillary Clinton is going to win the primary. She in fact hasn't even bothered to schedule any sort of victory party or even an announcement or an availability. They haven't rented out a hotel. It's in the bag.

The importance of the primary for Hillary Clinton this time, though, was she faced a challenge - a pretty weak challenge - from an anti-war Democrat by the name of Jonathon Tasini. He didn't mount a particularly effective campaign. He didn't raise very much money. But he gave her the opportunity to craft her message about the Iraq war.

ELLIOTT: And what is that crafted message?

Mr. THRUSH: Beginning a withdrawal by the end of this year with no date certain for withdrawal of the troops.

That puts her at variance with John Kerry and John Edwards, two folks whom she might face if she runs in 2008.

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