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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Congressional Primaries in Missouri and Michigan Among Those to Watch


Nope, sorry. The Congressional primaries are not over yet.

On Tuesday, voters in Missouri, Michigan, Washington and Kansas will pick their candidates for the House and the Senate. Among the other results pending, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, will learn at last which of three Republicans she will face in November in what is likely to be one of the most expensive and brutal fights in the country.

The three-way fight to replace Ms. McCaskill, who is perhaps the most endangered Senate Democrat and one Republicans must defeat if they are to retake that chamber, has been a high-profile one.

Ms. McCaskill and her Democratic allies are clearly hoping to face Representative Todd Akin, and have spent almost $2 million in the G.O.P. primary in a tacit effort to bolster his candidacy. Mr. Akin's cheerful, feel-good campaign with religious overtones could help him with his voter base, but may cost hi m among those who are spoiling for a brass-knuckle fight against an incumbent known for pushing back.

As a member who has supported earmarks in the past, Mr. Akin would also be easier to target in a general election, while John Brunner, a manufacturing company owner who is self-funded, would make things more difficult for Democrats, and as such is the preferred candidate among many Republicans. Also running is a former state treasurer, Sarah Steelman, who has the imprimatur of Sarah Palin, whose endorsement record has been strong in Republican primaries this year.

No matter whom Ms. McCaskill faces, she is certain to continue being pelted with negative advertisements paid for by outside groups determined to send her packing.

Missouri also plays host to a member-on-member House primary, and as is often the case in such races, it hasn't been pretty. The race to represent the First Congressional District pits two members of the state's political dynasties in a battle that has included tricky racial politics.

Representative Russ Carnahan â€" son of the late governor Mel Carnahan - lost his district in the decennial redistricting process and was drawn with Representative Lacy Clay in a St. Louis-area district that is a majority-minority district. The matchup occurred through a series of legislative and legal maneuvers, and Mr. Carnahan blamed Mr. Clay for helping Republicans mastermind their contest. He has also dinged Mr. Clay for missing some key House votes.

Mr. Clay, the son of Bill Clay, his state's first black congressman and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has pointed out that Mr. Carnahan â€" who has had to fight off tough challengers in all five of his races - has gone negative at the tail end of the campaign. Mr. Clay was first elected in 2000. With 70 percent of the new district containing his constituents, it seems like an uphill battle for Mr. Carnahan.

With accusations flying lef t and right about who has undermined whom, this primary starkly illustrates how a member-versus-member fight can turn regional and ideological allies into nasty foes.

Over to Michigan, where former Representative Pete Hoekstra seems positioned to beat back Clark Durant, a lawyer, for the privilege of taking on Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Democratic incumbent. Mr. Durant has picked up a lot of Tea Party support in recent weeks, but it does not seem likely to help him in a fairly moderate state where Mr. Hoekstra is well known and polling well above his opponent.

Should he prevail Tuesday night, Mr. Hoekstra may find his troubles have just begun. While Ms. Stabenow has struggled with seesawing job performance numbers over the last year, she returned to Michigan last week having beaten back House Republicans in their effort to undermine a recent farm bill that as chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee she ushered through a reluctant Senate.

The final outcome of that battle is far from over â€" House Republicans passed a short-term drought measure that she declined to consider in favor of a long-term bill that helps more producers than the House bill â€" but she looks to be a fighter, and for now, a strong one. Mr. Hoekstra's fortunes seem tied to those of Mitt Romney.

Michigan Democrats also have a member-on-member House primary, which pits Representative Gary Peters against freshman Representative Hansen Clarke for control of Michigan's 14th District. Two black candidates have shaved off some of the support for Mr. Clarke, who had a black mother and father from Bangladesh, while Mr. Peters, who is white, enjoys labor support and a nod from voters in the upscale Oakland County portion of the district.

In one of the oddest contests this summer, former Representative Thaddeus McCotter's failure to qualify for the ballot in the 11th Congressional District, followed by his surprise resignation, left Republicans in a bit of a quandary.

Now, the Republican candidate on the ballot is one Kerry Bentivolio, a libertarian-leaning reindeer farmer and Santa impersonator who just months ago was written off as a gadfly of little electoral consequence.

Republicans are scrambling to put together a write-in campaign for Nancy Cassis, a former Michigan state senator. While both candidates are largely self-funded, Mr. Bentivolio recently received a large donation from Liberty for All, a new “super PAC” financed almost entirely by one college student's inheritance from his grandfather.

Not to be outdone in the 11th District, which covers Detroit's western suburbs, Democrats are stuck with Syed Taj, the chief of Oakwood Hospital, and Lyndon LaRouche-backed Bill Roberts, neither of whom has much name recognition in the district. This seat leans Republican, no matter the outcome of either primary, but the race is starting to have an anything-goes flavor from the jump.

For about 10 minutes, Representative John Conyers looked to have a challenge as he sought his 25th term in the House from four Democratic comers in a new Michigan district that includes portions of Detroit and chunks of neighboring suburbs. But recent polls suggest Mr. Conyers will pull it out.

In Washington State, Democrats are fighting it out for a safe seat in the First District made open by the retirement of Representative Jay Inslee, who resigned to run for governor. In this blanket primary, Snohomish County Councilman John Koster, the only Republican in the race, is facing Darcy Burner, a prior candidate; Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft executive; and Laura Ruderman, a former state lawmaker, among others.

In Kansas, the focus is more at the state level, specifically the fight to determine which Republicans â€" the more conservative or the more moderate â€" will take control of that state's Senate.