There are signs that upcoming primaries may produce a sizzling summertime political heat wave. Here are the top 10 primaries to watch in the weeks leading up to Labor Day:
1. Colorado’s Democratic Senate primary (Aug. 10)
This is the battle of the titans, surrogate-version. Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet is backed by President Barack Obama. Challenger Andrew Romanoff, the Colorado House Speaker, is supported by Bill Clinton. Bennet, who replaced Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in the Senate, has never built a strong political presence (unlike appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York) and is considered very vulnerable, either in the primary or the November general election.
2. Arizona’s Republican Senate primary (Aug. 24)
John McCain, the former maverick, is playing a new part in the 2012 political drama: party regular. He’s gone from immigration reformer to champion of border fences. There’s a reason for the new, improved McCain: He’s facing a spirited challenge from former radio talk show host, TV pitchman and ex-congressman J.D. Hayworth, who claims that McCain is a faux conservative with a terminal case of Potomac fever. Two tough guys hurling nasty insults. It’s fine summertime entertainment from the state that gave us the O.K. Corral!
3. Arizona’s Republican primary, 3rd congressional district (Aug. 24)
Twelve Republicans filed in the race to succeed retiring Rep. John Shadegg in a GOP-leaning district anchored in Phoenix’s suburbs. One of the candidates is Ben Quayle, son of the former vice president. But the candidate who’s gotten the most free publicity is Pamela Gorman, a Palinesque former state senator who bought TV commercials showing her firing an automatic weapon while the announcer declares she’s “always right on target.” Vernon Parker, the mayor of Paradise Valley, may have a money edge, but Gorman is the new “It Girl” of the gun-toting conservative movement.
4. Colorado’s Republican Senate primary (Aug. 10)
One of the most intriguing primaries of the season comes in Colorado, where the very conservative former lieutenant governor Jane Norton faces an even more conservative Republican, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, in the GOP Senate primary. Democrats are salivating at polls showing Buck moving into the lead over Norton, whom Democrats consider the stronger foe for the general election. But the conventional wisdom has been wrong all year, so don’t bet against Buck.
5. Connecticut’s Democratic gubernatorial primary (Aug. 10)
Most of the national attention has focused on Attorney General Dick Blumenthal’s attempt to hold retiring Sen. Chris Dodd’s Connecticut Senate seat, but the Nutmeg State’s gubernatorial race may be more competitive. Indeed, it’s one of the best Democratic opportunities to win a governor’s seat now held by a Republican (the retiring Jodi Rell). The Democratic primary pits the party’s endorsed candidate, Dan Malloy, the former 14-year mayor of Stamford, against Ned Lamont, the man who bested Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary before losing a general election rematch. The two Democrats don’t disagree much on issues, but their stylistic differences reflect Democratic divisions between netroots liberals and the establishment left.
6. Kansas’ Republican Senate primary (Aug. 3)
It’s one of the nastiest primary races in the country, but it hasn’t gotten much attention because the winner of this Kansas Senate primary is all-but-certain to win the general election. The two contestants, Reps. Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran, plain don’t like each other. They’re trying to out-conservative each other, blasting Nancy Pelosi while accusing each other of raising taxes or consorting with the (political) enemy. Sarah Palin upped the ante in the race when she weighed in for Tiahrt.
7. Alabama’s Republican runoff, 2nd congress-ional district (July 13)
Another case of the Washington Establishment vs. tea party insurgents. Martha Roby, a favorite of D.C. Republicans, is running against a scorched-earth challenger, Rick Barber. Barber has won national headlines (and a viral video on YouTube) by buying TV ads likening the U.S. tax system to the Auschwitz death camps and American slavery. Roby, a member of the House Republicans’ “Young Guns” program, will need a sharp rifle to fend off Barber, whose ads have featured actors dressed up as the Founding Fathers and Abe Lincoln.
8. Oklahoma’s Republican gubernatorial primary (July 20)
The Sooner State’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, is limited to two terms, and Republicans have a good chance to take his job in John McCain’s best state in the 2008 presidential election. But there is a divisive multi-candidate primary, led by establishment choice Mary Fallon, a conservative congresswoman, and state Sen. Randy Brogdon, a tea party loyalist with a fervent following. This could go to a runoff unless Fallon pulls away in the next two weeks.
9. Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary (July 20)
The first GOP governor in Georgia history, Sonny Perdue, is retiring, and former Rep. Nathan Deal is struggling to best former Secretary of State Karen Handel, the insiders’ favorite. Democrats are hoping for a grudge match against the party-switching Deal. Handel, whose campaign slogan is “bring it on,” has momentum and a solid statewide organization.
10. Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial primary (Aug. 3)
Republicans are hoping to take back the seat held for eight years by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, but they have to get through a fascinating five-way primary first. Four GOP candidates are still in contention: Attorney General Mike Cox; Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee; Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard; and businessman Rick Snyder. Hoekstra’s early lead has faded. Perhaps, like Texas’ Hutchison, he’s learning that longtime Washington insiders running for governor back home are at a significant disadvantage this year.