MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And we begin this hour with politics. Across the country, candidates are pounding the pavement campaigning for election or reelection this fall. In a few minutes I'll introduce you to one of them, longtime Republican Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri, who's hoping to jump from the House to the Senate come November.
But, first, voters go to the polls tomorrow for primaries and runoffs in four states, North and South Carolina, Mississippi and Utah.
NORRIS: These states may not be bellwethers, but each of these contests tells an unusual and unusually compelling story. A House incumbent could lose his seat. Two Tea Party candidates face off to succeed an incumbent senator ousted earlier this year. And a popular black Republican takes on the son of one-time segregationist senator Strom Thurmond.
For help in parsing through the races, we're joined by NPR national political correspondents Don Gonyea and Mara Liasson here in the studio. I'm going to begin with you, Don. The headline race tomorrow is in South Carolina where state representative Nikki Haley appears poised to secure the Republican nomination for governor. Tell us about that race.
DON GONYEA: Haleys the frontrunner by a mile. She won 49 percent of the vote in the primary two weeks back. Second place went to Congressman Gresham Barrett, 22 percent. She is the Tea Party candidate. She has been endorsed by the likes of Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Here is why people outside South Carolina have likely heard of her. Two men, one a well-known conservative blogger in South Carolina claimed to have had affairs with her, neither has brought forth proof. In fact, Haley, who is married, her husband's in the National Guard, seems to have benefitted greatly from voter backlash.
Now, notable too in this race is the fact that she is Indian-American. She's a Christian, but was raised in the Sikh religion. Some Christian leaders have questioned the authenticity of her conversion, which took place some 14 years ago, but that hasn't been a big issue.
NORRIS: Now, Mara, there are two other interesting Republican runoffs in South Carolina, both for U.S. House seats. Can you bring us up to date on those?
MARA LIASSON: In the fourth congressional district, the incumbent is Bob Inglis. He could be defeated. He was forced into the runoff with Trey Gowdy, who was the conservative insurgent in that race. And Gowdy's hammered Inglis for opposing the surge in Iraq, for voting for the bank bailout. Inglis also angered conservatives when he suggested they turn off Glenn Beck. So, he's in danger there.
The district is solidly Republican, the winner of the runoff should win in the fall. The other solidly Republican district with the runoff is the first congressional district and it has Paul Thurmond, the son of the late South Carolina senator and the symbol of the South segregationist past, Strom Thurmond. He's running against a black Republican, Tim Scott. And if he wins, Scott would be the fourth black Republican in the House in 100 years.
LIASSON: Now, I'm going to stay on the Carolinas. Don, Democrats have a runoff to see who will face North Carolina's incumbent Republican senator, Richard Burr. Who's running there?
GONYEA: Well, Burr's the rare sitting GOP senator Democrats really hope they could knock off this year, especially after President Obama carried the state in '08. Today, that hope seems much more dim. We have two Democrats. There is North Carolina secretary of state Elaine Marshall. She finished first in the primary. And former state senator Cal Cunningham, he's the more establishment candidate. Right now polls show Republican Burr beating either easily in November.
NORRIS: Let's reach to the other side of the nation. There's an interesting primary in Utah, where Republican senator Robert Bennett did not even make it onto the ballot out of that caucus there. How did that happen, remind us, Mara, and who is on the ballot tomorrow?
LIASSON: Well, it happened because Utah Republicans nominate their candidates in a convention. And a convention favors conservative activists, and that's what happened. Two candidates got more votes than Bennett, so he was out of the race. The two candidates now in the runoff are Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater. Both of them are claiming Tea Party support.
Lee is supported by South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, who's been going around the country endorsing what he calls pure conservatives. And, also, from Dick Armey's group, FreedomWorks, has been involved with some of the Tea Party activity. Bridgewater, however, has been leading in the polls and he has the backing of none other than Bob Bennett, the ousted senator. And that actually might help him in this runoff because the Republican pool of voters is much broader in an actual primary than it is in a convention.
NORRIS: While the oil spill hasn't played much of a role in any of the races we've actually talked about here in the studio, it is a big political story right now, Mara. Does it look like President Obama made any headway last week when he spoke to the nation persuading folks that he's actually on top of this?
LIASSON: Well, his approval ratings have held remarkably steady, very little change there. His marks for handling the spill are much worse. But last week he was able to do some things announce the $20 billion fund, $100 million more for oil rig workers idled by the moratorium. And it's going to be those things, not more speeches - those and of course Joe Barton's comments - that I think will help him.
NORRIS: Don, we only have a few seconds left, but was that a setback for the Republicans, Joe Barton's apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward last week?
GONYEA: Hey, it's a tough issue for Republicans. Remember, this is the party of drill, baby, drill. Barton's apology fuels that narrative made worse by the fact that despite his apology for his apology, other members of the Republican study committee essentially shared his view.
NORRIS: Thanks to both of you.
GONYEA: Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: That's NPR's national political correspondents Don Gonyea and Mara Liasson.
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