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10 Things To Watch On Super Tuesday

By Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

While the May 18 primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania had their fair share of intrigue, the real Super Tuesday of the 2010 midterm cycle's primary season is June 8. Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg will be making his major league debut for the Nationals just a few blocks down South Capitol Street, but it's a safe bet that many on Capitol Hill will have their eyes glued to the election results in 11 states.

With so many contests to take in, here are 10 highlights and things to watch for as Super Tuesday unfolds:

Harry and the Republicans

While establishment Republicans in Nevada don't agree on Sharron Angle's ability to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, there's little disagreement she's the nominee Reid would prefer to run against. Angle's non-mainstream views on several issues (like shifting Social Security to a free market alternative and calling for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations) worry many of the standard bearers who prefer Sue Lowden, a former state senator and chairwoman of the Nevada GOP.

Angle's endorsement by the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth gave her a boost in the polls, and she took the lead in two separate polls released Thursday. But no matter who wins Tuesday -- Angle, Lowden or Danny Tarkanian, who are the most likely -- that person will enter the general election race with a significant fundraising disadvantage. As of May 19, Reid had more than $9 million, and none of the three Republicans had as much as $300,000.

But the GOP sees a sitting duck in Reid, who continues to straddle 40 percent support in the polls. Anything under 50 percent should be worrisome to an incumbent, but a party leader near 40 percent is far worse.

Is Lincoln Incumbent No. 5?

Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln needed a majority of the votes in the May 18 Democratic primary to avoid becoming another incumbent casualty. While she technically survived by being forced into a runoff after winning 44 percent, the well-known, two-term senator could have trouble picking up more support in Tuesday's contest. In fact, often just the opposite happens.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is running a campaign against Lincoln that, besides the labor unions that have his back, sounds an awful lot like any number of Republican challengers across the country -- arguing that Lincoln is no longer of Arkansas but rather a creature of Washington. Meanwhile, Lincoln is running on the clout she's earned after 12 years in the Senate, stepping up last year as chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

If Lincoln is defeated, she'll join a growing number of incumbents who can already start packing their bags: Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Arlen Specter (D-Penn.), and Reps. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) and Parker Griffith (R-Ala.).

Carlyfornia Steamin'

While her campaign got off to a rocky start, beginning with the strange Web site and tagline Carlyfornia Dreamin', Carly Fiorina has the money and momentum heading into the three-way California GOP Senate primary against former Rep. Tom Campbell and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. The latest polls have Fiorina up by at least 15 points.

Thanks in part to the $5.5 million she's contributed to her campaign, Fiorina slammed TV stations statewide with ads while Campbell was forced to pull his own off the air because of a lack of funds. DeVore, backed by Sen. Jim DeMint and other conservatives, never gained traction. In her latest ad, Fiorina bypasses her primary opponents and goes straight for Sen. Barbara Boxer, who's running for a fourth term in office.

If she wins, in the general election Fiorina will no longer have a monetary advantage. Boxer's already received two fundraising visits from President Obama, and through May 19 she was approaching $10 million in the bank.

Meg's Millions

The race for California governor is always one of the marquee contests in a midterm year. And even with Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the equation, this year's contest should be no exception.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown ended up with a clear path to the Democratic nomination when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to run for lieutenant governor. So the action this Tuesday is on the Republican side, with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman poised to earn the nomination over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

Whitman has maintained a fairly substantial lead for much of the contests, and paid handsomely to do so. The most recent filing showed she has spent over $80 million already, $68 million of it from her own pocket. It's an unprecedented sum even in a state where millionaires have spent lavishly before in political races - often unsuccessfully. Jerry Brown hasn't even spent 1 percent of that total.

Poizner, a millionaire himself, has closed the gap some in recent months, running an aggressive and strongly negative media campaign accusing Whitman of lacking conservative credentials. Whitman in return has run a bit more to the right, and the emergence of illegal immigration as an issue in neighboring Arizona of course became more prominent here.

Whitman has said she is prepared to spend as much as $150 million to win this race, her first ever for elected office. It may be necessary against an opponent first elected to statewide office 40 years ago.

An Iowa Comeback

Two states that play major roles in presidential nominations hold key Republican primaries for governor Tuesday, perhaps offering a sneak peak at the mood of that constituency with just a year and a half until that 2012 race becomes real. In Iowa, the frontrunner is a familiar face: Terry Branstad, a former four-term governor joining Brown and three others looking to reclaim their old posts this year.

Democrat Chet Culver appears to be among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, regardless of who emerges from Tuesday's contest. But a Branstad win in particular would threaten to seal Culver's fate five months before the general election, analysts believe.

And yet, Branstad is not the runaway favorite, if recent polls are to be believed. Bob Vander Plaats, the party's nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006, was running before Branstad entered and unlike others in the party, chose not to defer to the familiar name when he did join the field. He's had the loyal support of Mike Huckabee, winner of the state's 2008 caucuses, and run as the true conservative outsider in an anti-establishment year. Focus on the Family's James Dobson joined Huckabee in endorsing him just this week.

But Branstad landed his own high-level endorsement Thursday as well: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She joined Mitt Romney in doing so in a rare nod to a familiar name; she's backed underdogs in many other contested primaries this year. The only setback to Branstad so far may have come in a brief hospitalization for a heart procedure, one the campaign says was routine.

2010's First Gubernatorial Casualty

Culver is one of many incumbent governors who are fighting for their political lives this year. But Nevada's Jim Gibbons is poised to be the first who won't even survive his primary.

The former Congressman barely survived a series of late stumbles in his 2006 campaign to win the office in the first place. But his tenure has been marked by even more controversy, including a sensational divorce. Former state Attorney General Brian Sandoval emerged early ready to challenge Gibbons, and polling has shown him a strong favorite ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Should Gibbons lose, he'd be the first elected incumbent governor to lose his renomination fight since Frank Murkowski lost to Sarah Palin in 2006. In the Democratic primary, Rory Reid, son of the embattled Senate majority leader, is unopposed. But his father's struggles appear to be effecting his general election prospects as well, which is one reason why he and other Democrats will be hoping for an upset win by Gibbons.

Can Haley Hold On?

No campaign has gotten as ugly this late as the Republican race for governor in South Carolina. State Rep. Nikki Haley had emerged in recent weeks as something of a surprise leader in the polls, a surge capped with the recent endorsements of Palin and Romney. But now she's facing what even in South Carolina is considered a brutal late onslaught as not one but two men - both with some standing in party politics - alleged that they had sexual relationships with Haley.

Having run hard on fiscal conservative issues and with some quiet support from outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford's political machine, Haley has now been forced to rebut these charges, including a TV ad launched just this week where she introduces her husband and talks of the state's ugly politics.

Three other Republicans have been fighting it out with Haley. Rep. Gresham Barrett has faced his own struggles of late as his Washington record - particularly a vote for TARP - made him a target. Attorney General Henry McMaster joined Republican colleagues across the country in filing suit against the Obama health care law. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who once offered not to run if Sanford resigned after his personal controversy, has not gained much traction.

Democrats have their own primary, but it's drawn far less interest and the winner will be considered a heavy underdog.

The Return of Pombo

Richard Pombo, the former chairman of the House Resources Committee (renamed the Natural Resources committee when the Dems regained power in 2007) was driven out of California's 11th district in 2006, thanks in large part to environmental groups who labeled him "Wildlife Enemy No. 1." Now the Republican is aiming for the neighboring 19th district, far safer than his old district and left vacant with the retirement of Republican George Radanovich.

Well, environmental groups are up in arms once again, as Yosemite National Park is located within the district's borders. The San Jose Mercury News quoted the CEO of the League of Conservation Voters comparing Pombo representing Yosemite to Godzilla as mayor of Tokyo. The Republican primary winner is expected to also take the general election, but it's unclear who exactly that will be. Pombo faces the Radanovich-endorsed state Sen. Jeff Denham, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund.

Taking Back Virginia

Bob McDonnell's gubernatorial victory in November began what Republicans hope will be the party's resurgence in the state. Before he took over as governor, Democrats held the governorship, both Senate seats and six of the 11 House seats. Democrats picked up three House seats in 2008, and Republicans see red in at least two of them -- Glenn Nye's 2nd district and Tom Perriello's 5th district. Their opponents will be decided Tuesday.

Both primaries are packed and will likely be close, but the party favorites are state Sen. Robert Hurt in Charlottesville's 5th and Scott Rigell, a friend of McDonnell's, in Virginia Beach's 2nd.

A Football Jersey

The Garden State is still riding high after winning the right to host the Super Bowl in a few years. And Republicans are even more bullish after the strong win last November of Chris Christie over incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine. With that backdrop, we note the campaign in New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District by Jon Runyan (R), an NFL veteran who spent much of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. That team boasts many fans in the southern New Jersey seat, giving him a boost in the race to challenge first-term Democrat John Adler.

The 12th District seat held by Rush Holt (D) could also be competitive this fall, and there are potential upsets in GOP primaries across the state as conservative former mayor of Bogota and two-time gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan is backing a host of tea-party candidates.