Incumbents, big names take beating but they survive in the primaries

The anti-establishment fever wasn’t enough to take down incumbents or big-name candidates on Tuesday, but it was enough to be noticed.

Two House Republican incumbents in Indiana won with less than 50 percent of the vote in their primaries, while two Democratic House incumbents in North Carolina ceded nearly 40 percent of the vote to token challengers who didn’t even raise $5,000.

Reps. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) each survived primary scares, with Souder beating car dealer Bob Thomas 48-34 and Burton leading a field of four other candidates with less than 30 percent of the vote. Though both veterans of primary challenges, each fared notably worse than in the previous primaries they have faced.

In North Carolina, two vulnerable Democrats who voted against their party’s healthcare bill – Reps. Heath Shuler and Larry Kissell – each saw their opponents take about two-fifths of the vote, even though their opponents barely raised any money at all. Shuler won with 61.5 percent, while Kissell took 62.5 – strikingly low numbers for incumbents without major opposition.

The anti-Washington mood was also evident in Senate races. Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) won with less than 40 percent of the vote in a wide field, while the candidate favored by national Democrats in North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, finished well behind Secretary of State Elaine Marshall but managed to make it to a runoff.

In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) lost 46 percent of the vote to Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in their Senate primary, even though Brunner could barely raise any money. (She blamed party leaders for cutting off her donors.

Other examples included former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.), who finished third in his attempt at a fifth-straight GOP nomination in the 9th district, and the GOP primaries in several districts where members of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program faced tough races.

Young Guns participants Dr. Larry Bucshon and attorney Todd Young narrowly held off non-Young Guns opponents in southern Indiana. And in Ohio, two members of the program – businessman Jim Renacci and state Sen. Bob Gibbs – were also having some difficulties.

Renacci appeared primed to face Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio) despite a decent showing by repeat candidate Matt Miller. Gibbs trailed narrowly in the primary to face Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) and was taking just 21.5 percent of the vote. The race could be headed for a recount.

In North Carolina, a non-Young Guns candidate, Tim D’Annunzio, finished first in the primary to face Kissell, beating three Young Guns candidates. But he failed to achieve 40 percent of the vote and will go to a runoff with former sportscaster Harold Johnson.

Overall, it was a night of indecision on the part of GOP voters. In nine contested primaries in Indiana, only one nominee came out with more than 50 percent of the vote. That was state Rep. Jackie Walorski, who took more than 60 percent and will run against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

The GOP did get appear to get some resolution in the race to face Shuler, where Young Guns participant Jeff Miller unofficially won his primary with 40.2 percent of the vote – just enough to avoid a runoff.

Reps. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), who each faced notable primary opposition, each won with more than 60 percent of the vote. Two Democrats were in a tight race in Schmidt’s district, which has been a Democratic target in the past.