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Primary Season Begins Next Week

March begins on Saturday and that means the primary season is upon us. The first Senate primary is next Tuesday in Texas, where Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), will score a massive victory over Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), a tea party candidate even the tea party refuses to back. On March 18, Senate majority whip, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), will cruise to an equally massive win. Thus although we have two primaries in March, we don't have any excitement. It is not until May that it gets interesting. Here is the schedule of Senate primaries.

Date States holding Senate primary
March 4 Texas
March 18 Illinois
May 6 North Carolina
May 13 Nebraska, West Virginia
May 20 Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon
June 3 Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota
June 10 Maine, South Carolina, Virginia
June 24 Colorado, Oklahoma
Aug. 5 Kansas, Michigan
Aug. 7 Tennessee
Aug. 9 Hawaii
Aug. 12 Minnesota
Aug. 19 Alaska, Wyoming
Sept. 9 Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island
Nov. 4 Louisiana

Not all Senate races have competitive primaries. Below are some of the ones that look competitive at the moment, although new candidates still have time to show up and make boring races interesting. And, of course, existing candidates can run out of money, drop out, and make interesting races boring. The races are listed in the order they will occur.

North Carolina. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) has a couple of unknown opponents with no name recognition and no money, so she will easily be renominated. The real action is on the Republican side, with state house speaker Thom Tillis the establishment favorite. He has the good fortune to have not one, but two, tea party opponents, fiery pastor Mark Harris and activist Greg Brannon. If they split the anti-establishment vote, Tillis will win and pose a major challenge to Hagan in this more red than purple state. If Tillis wins the primary, North Carolina will be one of the most hotly contested states in the general election.

Georgia. The daughter of legendary former senator Sam Nunn, Michelle Nunn, is running for the Democratic nomination and will get it. The Republican side is a complete free-for-all, with four representatives and a former secretary of state in the mix. All of them are tea party candidates, so they will be competing to convince the voters that each one is the most conservative candidate. Currently leading the pack is Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), with a whopping 19% of the vote. Next comes former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel with 14%. Anything can happen here and probably will. This is the Democrats' best or second best pickup chance because the GOP candidates will be killing each other until the middle of May.

Kentucky. Unlike Georgia, which is an open seat, the Kentucky race pits the ultimate establishment Republican, minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) against a brash tea party businessman, Matt Bevin. The tea party hates McConnell almost as much as it hates President Obama, so this will be a hugely expensive and bloody primary. McConnell has about $10 million in the bank but he is not terribly popular in Kentucky (29%/68%). McConnell is ahead of Bevin so far, but you ain't seen nothin' yet. The Democrats settled on secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes. Her father, Jerry Lundergan, is an old and dear friend of Bill Clinton. While Obama won't show his face in the state before the general election, The Clintons are certainly going to do their best for Lundergan Grimes. In fact, Bill Clinton addressed 1200 people at a fundraiser for Lundergan Grimes yesterday. Another peculiarity of this race is that It will be hard for the Republican to campaign on repealing the ACA because Kentucky has one of the best-run health care exchanges in the country. Almost 250,000 Kentuckians have signed up so far. For McConnell or Bevin to promise: "If elected, I will take away your health insurance" is not likely to be a winning slogan. If the ACA somehow does become a campaign issue (possibly because Lundergan Grimes makes it one), it will only serve to motivate the newly insured to vote. Recent polling shows Lundergan Grimes in a virtual tie with McConnell in the general election but crushing Bevin. To some extent this may be name recognition though, since Lundergan Grimes has campaigned statewide before and Bevin is just getting started. Along with Georgia, this is one of the Democrats best shots at picking up a seat.

Iowa. This is another state where the Democrats have long settled on a candidate, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), and the Republicans have not. In fact, they don't even have a first tier candidate in the mix. If no candidate passes the 35% mark, there will be a state convention on July 12 to pick the Republican nominee. Anything could happen there. All of this bodes well for Braley.

Mississippi. In a sense, this primary is irrelevant because whoever gets the Republican nomination will win the general election. The Democrats may not even bother to field a candidate. Still, it provides an interest test of the establishment vs. the tea party. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is a six-term senator going for a seventh term. Cochran sees his main job in Washington as bringing in as much money as he can for his impoverished state. With so much seniority, he is very good at it. In fact, that is his main pitch to the voters: "I can bring in tons of federal money to finance projects all over the state." His tea party opponent, state senator Chris McDaniel, says that every senator tries to bring in money for his state and that is precisely what is wrong with Washington. If Cochran loses the primary, it will shake the Republican Party to its core. Senators will start thinking: "Is anyone safe any more?"

Montana. Now that Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) has appointed former lieutenant governor John Walsh to fill the seat of Max Baucus, who resigned from the Senate to become ambassador to China, Walsh should be the Democratic nominee without too much of a battle. The Republican side features the state's only congressman, Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) against a tea party state representative Champ Edmunds. Daines is well known and well funded and Edmunds is not. Although Montana has plenty of cattle, Daines does not have foot-in-mouth disease, and not making any blunders may be enough to carry him to victory in the primary. Then the general election will pit a sitting senator against a sitting representative, both of whom have campaigned and won statewide (Walsh for lieutenant governor and Daines for Montana's lone House seat).

Hawaii. Finally we come to the only competitive primary on the Democratic side. When former senator Daniel Inouye died in December, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) appointed his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, to fill Inouye's seat. This appointment really, really annoyed, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), who has long coveted a Senate seat, so she challenged Schatz in a primary. A couple of issues are potentially potent here, but not discussed in the open so much. Hanabusa is a Japanese American and feels that the Senate seat really belongs to a Japanese American. Schatz is Jewish. Given the large Japanese American population in Hawaii, that works for Hanabusa (not that Hawaii has anything against Jews: former two-term Hawaii governor Linda Lingle is Jewish). On the other hand, Hanbusa is 62 and Schatz is 41. Since it takes 20 years to achieve enough seniority in the Senate to have any power, that works for Schatz. Polls show that it is close. The Republicans will find some sacrificial lamb to run, but it won't make any difference in this very blue state.

Alaska. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) barely squeezed by then-senator Ted Stevens in 2010, even though Stevens had just racked up half a dozen felony convictions. Begich won't have to fight for the Democratic nomination, but could have the fight of his life on his hands in the general election. The Republicans could easily blow it, though. The lieutenant governor, Mead Treadwell and the commissioner of natural resources (such as oil), Dan Sullivan, are locked in a battle. But the problem for both of them may be Joe Miller, a tea party candidate who was the Republican nominee for the Senate in 2010. We could easily have a situation in which the two establishment candidates split the moderate (for Alaska) vote and let Miller squeak by. In a way, Alaska is the opposite of North Carolina. There two tea party candidates could split the vote and let the establishment candidate through; Alaska is the reverse. Against either Treadwell or Sullivan, Begich would have a real fight on his hands. Against the loony Miller, we would see the unusual spectacle of a Democratic landslide in Alaska.

Louisiana. This state doesn't have primaries. Instead, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will face both Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and tea party activist Rob Maness in a jungle primary without party labels. If no one gets over 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff in December. Given the lean of the state, Landrieu probably won't get to 50%, so she will probably face one of the two in December. If the November results give the Democrats 49 seats and the Republicans 50 seats, the runoff will determine control of the Senate. With it likely being the only contest in December, the entire country will be focused on it and millions (billions?) of dollars will be pumped into the state from outside. If you were planning to buy a television station in Louisiana, this might be a good time to go shopping.

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