Late August Primary Drama

Tuesday’s five-state primary/runoff extravaganza produced plenty of drama, several close races, and a few surprises — especially in Alaska’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, where former judge Joe Miller, endorsed by Sarah Palin and fueled by the Tea Party Express, ran slightly ahead of incumbent Lisa Murkowski despite being heavily outspent.

With absentee and provisional ballots still pending, Miller leads by 1668 votes. His campaign appears to have benefitted a great deal from turnout patterns affected by an anti-abortion ballot initiative.  If she ultimately loses the GOP nomination, Murkowski could possibly run as the candidate of the Libertarian Party, giving Democrat Scott McAdams a chance.

In a less dramatic outcome, in Arizona, John McCain easily brushed off J.D. Hayworth’s once-fearsome challenge, and Gov. Jan Brewer (R) won with little trouble. GOP House primaries in AZ were a bit more turbulent.  In AZ-3, Ben Quayle, son of yes-that-Quayle, overcame involvement in an off-color internet site to win an open seat nomination over a crowded field.  In AZ-8, represented by Democrat Gabby Giffords, the GOP primary was won by Tea Party favorite Jesse Kelly over front-runner Jonathan Paton in a mild upset.

In Oklahoma, two Republican congressional runoffs were held.  In OK-2, veterinarian Charles Thompson won a low-profile primary to face Blue Dog Democrat Dan Boren. The national GOP will now decide whether to give Thompson a lift by making this a targeted race.  In OK-5, church camp director James Lankford won a surprisingly large win over Club for Growth candidate Kevin Calvey (who appears to have gone too negative) for an open Republican seat.

In Vermont, the Democratic gubernatorial contest seems to be ending as it began: close and civil.  Final but unofficial returns showed state senate president pro tem Peter Shumlin edging former Lt. Gov. Doug Racine and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz for the right to take on Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R).  There’s a chance of a recount, but the candidates have already had a unity rally.

There wasn’t much civility down in Florida, however, where the Republican gubernatorial primary was won by wealthy “conservative outsider” Rick Scott, who will carry his extensive baggage into a three-way general election battle with Democrat Alex Sink and independent Bud Chiles.

Scott’s bitterly disappointed opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, has suggested he might endorse Sink.  Meanwhile, Scott’s Democratic doppelganger, billionaire investor Jeff Greene, did not do so well in the Senate primary; congressman Kendrick Meek beat him easily.  (Over at, Mark Blumenthal has a good analysis of the challenges Meek will face in the general election).

In highly competitive FL House primaries, 2nd district Blue Dog Alan Boyd narrowly turned back a surprisingly strong challenge from state senate minority leader Al Lawson.  8th district Democrat Alan Grayson, who’s painted a bullseye on his own back with chronic conservative-baiting comments, will face former state senator majority leader Daniel Webster (R).  And another vulnerable Democrat, 24th district congresswoman Susan Kosmas, will face state legislator Sandy Adams, who won a fractious primary dominated by fights between Karen Diebel and Craig Miller.

On Saturday, Louisiana will hold its congressional primary, with three Republicans battling for the 3rd district nomination, an open seat being vacated by Democrat Charlie Melancon, who is running for the Senate.  In the 2nd district, four Democrats are fighting for the chance to take on one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the House, Joseph Cao.

Meanwhile, also on Saturday, West Virginia is holding its special Senate primary, with Gov. Joe Manchin sure to win the Democratic nod in this sleepy contest, and the late Robert Byrd’s 2008 opponent, John Raese, likely to win the Republican nomination.

We’ll then have a brief break in the primary calendar until September 14, when no less than seven states, plus the District of Columbia, hold their nominating contests.

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