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« Headline Of The Day | Blog Home Page | Davis Eyeing Gov Race »

A Tale Of Two Primaries

It isn't always easy being an incumbent member of Congress, even when your party's presidential nominee carries your district by dozens of points. In two cases this year, incumbents are facing difficult challenges that threaten their status in Congress, and that's before they even get to November.

In Idaho, freshman Rep. Bill Sali got some good news yesterday when three top Republicans announced they're heading up his campaign. The conservative firebrand has put his foot in his mouth a few times of late, most recently when he suggested that the founding fathers had not envisioned Rep. Keith Ellison's election to the House. Ellison is the first Muslim to serve in Congress.

After winning a difficult primary in 2006, Sali now faces a more moderate challenger this year. Iraq war veteran Matt Salisbury has the backing of Idaho Agriculture director Pat Takasugi, though Sali's campaign will be chaired by Public Instruction Superintendent Tom Luna, Treasurer Ron Crane and House Speaker Lawerence Denney. Still, an August poll from Greg Smith & Associates, a leading Idaho Republican pollster, showed just 29% of those surveyed viewed Sali favorably, while 46% viewed him unfavorably.

Through the third quarter, Sali held cash reserved of just $110,000 with almost $190,000 in debt. Salisbury declared his intention to run on July 4, though he has yet to file papers with the FEC.

In Maryland, Rep. Albert Wynn is not a freshman. First elected in 1992, the Democrat representing Prince George's County, north and east of Washington, has never won a general election with less than 75% of the vote. But last year, Donna Edwards, former executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, gave Wynn a scare, coming within three thousand votes -- about 3.3% -- of beating Wynn in the primary.

This year, Edwards is running again. Earlier this week she won backing from the League of Conservation Voters, while Wynn won support from NARAL. The liberal blogosphere is backing Edwards, who is anti-war, while criticizing Wynn for supporting the bankruptcy bill and voting to repeal the estate tax.

Edwards also has support from EMILY's List, which will help her allieviate Wynn's fundraising edge. At the end of the quarter, Wynn had $400,000 on hand, while Edwards, who launched her campaign at the end of June, already has $115,000 on hand.

The two primaries are being fought on very different turf, but for the same reasons. Sali, some Idaho Republicans believe, is too conservative for his district. Ironically, say some Maryland Democrats, so is Wynn. Both primaries promise to be two of the closest in the country featuring incumbents.