Races To Watch Tomorrow: It’s Not Just The Big Senate Primaries

May 17, 2010 8:29 a.m.

All eyes are on the big Senate primaries tomorrow in Arkansas, Kentucky And Pennsylvania — but there are some other races going on, too, which could have important repercussions for the fall.

One of the top races to watch will be the special election for the Johnstown-area district formerly held by the late Rep. John Murtha, who passed away in February. The TPM Poll Average gives Republican businessman Tim Burns an edge of 43.0%-42.4% over Democratic candidate and former Murtha aide Mark Critz. A key X-factor in the race is that Democratic turnout could be disproportionately high in this swing district, because the election is being held at the same time as the regular statewide primaries. There are far more contested Democratic primaries than Republican ones — most notably the Senate race between incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak — and this could disproportionately drive Dem voters to the polls.

Murtha was first elected in a 1974 special election, picking it up from the Republicans in the middle of the Watergate scandals, and held the seat for 36 years until his death in February 2010. The district voted for John McCain in 2008 by a margin of less than one point — the only district in the country to switch from John Kerry in 2004 to McCain in 2008, having voted for Kerry 51%-48% in 2004. CQ, Stuart Rothenberg, Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato all rate this race as a toss-up.Also on the ballot in Pennsylvania is a Democratic gubernatorial primary, to succeed term-limited Dem Gov. Ed Rendell. The frontrunner is Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) Executive Dan Onorato, leading state Sen. Anthony Williams, State Auditor Jack Wagner and former Congressman Joe Hoeffel. The TPM Poll Average gives Onorato 39.0%, Williams 12.4%, Wagner 8.9% and Hoeffel 7.6%. For the general election, all four candidates have been trailing Republican state Attorney General Tom Corbett by various margins, with Onorato behind by 42.6%-34.6% in the TPM Poll Average.

In Arkansas, there are contested Democratic primaries for two open Dem-held House seats, both of which could potentially fall to the GOP this fall. The races are wide, multi-candidate fields in which no candidate is likely to reach 50% of the vote, and thus there will probably be runoffs on June 8.

In the First District, Democratic Rep. Marion Berry is retiring after seven terms. The top candidates are Berry’s former chief of staff Chad Causey and former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge, along with state Sen. Steve Bryles and state Rep. David Cook. Two other candidates, Marine veteran Terry Green and businessman Ben Ponder, are also on the ballot. The district voted for John McCain by 59%-38% in 2008, so expect this to be a top GOP target.

In the Second District, Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder is retiring after seven terms. The result could be a three-way race between former Snyder chief of staff David Boling, state House Speaker Robbie Wills and state Sen. Joyce Elliott. Also running are attorney John Adams and former state University administrator Patrick Kennedy. The district voted for John McCain by 54%-44%, and the Republicans have already coalesced around GOP political operative Tim Griffin, who served briefly as a U.S. Attorney in a controversial appointment.

In Oregon, there is an open-seat gubernatorial race, with incumbent Democrat Ted Kulongoski retiring due to term limits. On the Democratic side, former Gov. John Kitzhaber is the frontrunner for the Dem nomination, against former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. (Kitzhaber was previously term-limited out in 2002, but is able to run again for a non-consecutive third term.) On the Republican side, the GOP could be poised to nominate a moderate candidate, former professional basketball player Chris Dudley, who is facing divided right-wing opposition. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Dudley is pro-choice on abortion, supports civil unions for gay couples, and is not a member of the National Rifle Association.

Keep in mind that Oregon uses mail-in voting, so a good portion of the votes have already been cast — an estimated 38% of the total Democratic vote and 28% of the Republican vote have already been cast, according to the SurveyUSA poll from a week ago. Among Democrats who have already voted — SurveyUSA gives Kitzhaber a 58%-30% lead in what is effectively an exit poll. Dudley has an even bigger lead of 57% among GOP voters who have already cast their ballot, against businessman Allen Alley with 19% of the already-voted — but those who haven’t voted make it a closer race, with 36% for Dudley to 27% for Alley.

There are other races on the ballot, as well. For example, there is a wide-open Republican primary for Arkansas’s Third Congressional District, where GOP Rep. John Boozman is leaving in order to run for Senate. The district voted for John McCain by 64%-33%. Also in Oregon, Republicans could end up nominating for Senate Jim Huffman, a socially moderate and economically conservative Republican, against divided conservative opposition. Among Republicans who already cast their ballots a week ago, the SurveyUSA poll gave Huffman 30%, while his nearest opponent, real estate broker Tom Stutzman, has 17%. The winner will face an uphill battle against Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.

This post has been edited from the original.

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