Top seven primaries in Congress

Apart from the special election for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat, the next big elections will be primaries that set the stage for Election Day 2010.

Many of these primaries are in full swing, with the earliest of them coming Feb. 2 in Illinois. Others as late as September have also gotten off to fast starts.

The Hill takes a look at the top seven Senate and House primaries, in order, to watch in the months ahead.
Senate

Florida Republicans
Gov. Charlie Crist vs. former state House Speaker Marco Rubio

Conservatives around the nation are girding for this one, even though it isn’t until late August. Of late, Crist’s campaign has been pushing stories about conservative resistance to Rubio. Look for this race to echo outgoing New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s (D) campaign against Chris Christie (R). And Crist’s liabilities with the GOP electorate should only be a precursor to a very well-funded war on Rubio’s record.

Date: Aug. 24

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Pennsylvania Democrats
 Sen. Arlen Specter vs. Rep. Joe Sestak

Specter looks to be the most imperiled incumbent in the Senate, as he faces very tough challenges in both the primary and general elections. Sestak is setting himself up nicely to Specter’s left. If Specter’s shoddy poll numbers don’t improve significantly, he’s really going to have to bring down retired Navy Rear Adm. Sestak. Of course, Specter has never been shy about doing such things.

Date: May 18

Kentucky
Dems: Attorney General Jack Conway vs. Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo
GOP: State Secretary of State Trey Grayson vs. Ron Paul son/ophthalmologist Rand Paul


Both sides in this race look like they could go to the wire, with Paul being the surprise contender and Mongiardo looking stronger than some expected him to. Though both Grayson and Conway have much of the establishment support in the race, Mongiardo and Paul both polled leads in the most recent surveys.

Date: May 18

Utah Republicans
Sen. Bob Bennett vs. the process

State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s exit from the race earlier this month left a vacuum that is sure to be filled by somebody, and Utah’s unusual nominating process looks to be a severe liability for Bennett. In any other state, Bennett’s re-nomination probably wouldn’t be an issue. But the conservatives dominate here, and they don’t like him much. Watch for what happens at the May state convention, when a multi-ballot selection process promises plenty of drama.

Date: convention May 8, possible primary June 22

Connecticut Republicans
Former Rep. Rob Simmons vs. former WWE CEO Linda McMahon vs. former Ambassador Tom Foley

The field is bigger than just these three, but early indications are that they are the most formidable. McMahon has drawn much attention (including from establishment types) for her ability to self-fund tens of millions of dollars, and Simmons’s campaign is starting to hit back. Could Foley pick up the slack if they duke it out a little too much?

Date: Aug. 10

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Colorado Democrats
Sen. Michael Bennet vs. former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff


Bennet doesn’t appear to be in as much primary trouble as Specter, and Romanoff’s kickoff didn’t set the world on fire. A Denver Post research piece this week showed that, even with Romanoff picking the low-hanging fruit after entering the race in September, Bennet outraised him two-to-one over a three-week span. Still, Bennet is an unknown quantity to many, and Rubio showed primary opponents can rebound from slow starts.

Date: Aug. 10

Nevada Republicans
Attorney Danny Tarkanian vs. former state GOP Chairwoman Sue Lowden vs. others

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has some of the worst numbers of any incumbent senator, but he didn’t draw a top-tier opponent. Seeing how the jumbled GOP field conducts itself in a June primary will be instructive. Republicans would like for a candidate to assert him- or herself as the top dog early on. The early favorites are Tarkanian or Lowden, but nobody has a monopoly right now.

Date: June 8

House


South Carolina - 4, Republicans
Rep. Bob Inglis vs. prosecutor Trey Gowdy vs. state Sen. David Thomas

Inglis acknowledged recently that he has a hard time relating to the “hard right,” and that’s not exactly a good thing at a time when the GOP is undergoing some soul-searching (see: New York special election). He doesn’t have much of a fundraising lead, either. His best hope, at this point, appears to be his opponents splitting the vote. Though many House incumbents face primaries, only Inglis and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have well-funded ones at this point. The field is even more crowded with Burton.

Date: June 8

Illinois - 10, Democrats
State Rep. Julie Hamos vs. ’06/08 nominee Dan Seals

Hamos has the big money; Seals has the name recognition. History suggests strongly that reasonably well-funded former nominees like Seals have good luck in these situations, but few of them face a candidate who raised $547,000 in the third quarter of an off-year. Time looms as Hamos’s biggest foe, and she will have to hope that voters have given up on Seals after two tries against Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Kirk is vacating to run for Senate, and this is a top Democratic pickup opportunity. The GOP primary here should also be a pitched battle, thought it’s jumbled right now.

Date: Feb. 2

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Louisiana - 2, Democrats 
state Rep. Cedric Richmond vs. state Rep. Juan LaFonta vs. others?

On few occasions is a primary to face a sitting congressman seen as a de facto general election. When a Republican — in this case, freshman Rep. Joseph Cao — represents a 75 percent Obama district, though, such is the case. We were expecting a massive Democratic primary, and we might still get it. But Richmond appears to be consolidating some support from rival camps early on. We’ll see who else gets in.

Date: Aug. 28

Florida - 8, Republicans
Developer Armando Gutierrez vs. 2008 candidate Todd Long vs. others

Gutierrez has become a lightning rod, but he’s also got plenty of support from members of the establishment. Republicans will keep up their long-running search for another candidate, but Gutierrez’s profile could be difficult to overcome. Long nearly beat Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) in a primary last year, but he has yet to file a fundraising report. Adding to the drama is the fact that the winner gets liberal firebrand Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) in what will be a top-targeted and nationalized race.

Date: Aug. 24

Virginia - 2, Republicans
Businessman Scott Rigell vs. businessman Ben Loyola

Rigell has emerged as the favorite of national Republicans in this race, but Loyola’s $500,000 in self-funding in the third quarter was an unwelcome surprise for Rigell backers. With Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.) one of the GOP’s foremost targets, the party really doesn’t need an expensive primary for a new candidate like Rigell. On the flipside, the experience could be good for him in the general election — if he makes it there.

Date: June 8

Michigan - 7, Republicans
Former Rep. Tim Walberg vs. attorney Brian Rooney

Rooney, the brother of freshman Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), hasn’t proven his political mettle yet (he just got in), but there appears to be an opening against Walberg. He wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms when he decided to seek a rematch with Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.). We’ll have to see if the establishment rallies around Rooney as an alternative.

Date: Aug. 3

New York - 19, Republicans
Assemblyman Greg Ball vs. ophthalmologist Nan Hayworth

Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) isn’t the biggest of GOP targets, but this one makes the list simply because of the wildcard that is Ball. Ball has outraised Hall in two straight quarters, but his personal history is colorful, and he scares some national Republicans. Party leaders might have gotten a break with Hayworth, who recently got in the race and also outraised the incumbent in the third quarter. But Ball won’t go without a fight.

Date: Sept. 14