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Tonight’s Election Preview: Primaries and Runoffs in Utah and the Carolinas

There are two high-profile primaries in Utah and runoffs in the Carolinas tonight; here’s a rundown of what’s to come:


Two races hold national interest in the night’s only true primary elections — the Republican Senate primary between two Tea Party candidates and Rep. Jim Matheson’s (D) fight to keep his party’s nod against a challenger from his left.

Back on May 8, incumbent Sen. Robert Bennett (R) got knocked out of the running for renomination at the GOP’s state convention, placing third during the second round of balloting, behind businessman Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee. Since neither remaining candidate got the required support of 60 percent of delegates, they were forced into a primary. Bennett, the first incumbent senator to lose this cycle, decided not to mount a write-in campaign for the seat, instead choosing to back Bridgewater.

The results of a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll released over the weekend shows Bridgewater leading Lee 42-33 percent, with 25 percent of respondents saying they were still undecided. Both candidates have roots in the Tea Party movement, though Lee has the backing of FreedomWorks PAC and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a Tea Party icon.

Matheson also did not get the required 60 percent of delegates at his party’s convention, meaning he too faces a primary — in this case from retired high school teacher and college adjunct Claudia Wright. Wright has hammered Matheson, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, over his refusal to vote for his party’s legislative priorities — including health care reform.

Though Matheson led Wright by 19 points in the poll cited above, he only garnered 52 percent — an anemic number for a five-term incumbent. Since the convention, he has received financial and campaign support from fellow Blue Dogs, including freshman Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho).


There are high-profile runoffs in both parties here, with the most-watched race being the contest between former state Sen. Cal Cunningham and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. Marshall ran nine points ahead of Cunningham in the May 4 primary, but fell short of the 40 percent threshold needed for an outright victory. Both candidates have factors that may work in their favor with voters — Marshall has more experience in elected office, while Cunningham has the unofficial backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Electability may also be a factor, as a Public Policy Polling poll released June 8 shows Marshall runs closer to incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) than Cunningham does. Polls have shown the two candidates tied or have given Marshall a small lead.

There will also be runoffs to select Republican challengers to incumbent Democratic Reps. Larry Kissell, Brad Miller and Melvin Watt. The most-watched of these races occurs in Kissell’s district, where the contest is between embattled Tea Party favorite Tim D’Annunzio and former sportscaster Harold Johnson. Since D’Annunzio finished first in the primary, opponents have portrayed him as a religious zealot and claimed he was “unfit for public office at any level.” A PPP poll released earlier this month showed Johnson leading by 10 points.


Apart from the all-but-finished electoral controversy surrounding Democratic Senate nominee Alvin Greene, the two main political stories in this state will reach their own conclusions in runoffs tonight.

In a race that has seemed to get nastier by the day, state Rep. Nikki Haley and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett are battling for the Republicans’ gubernatorial nomination. Haley nearly captured the nomination during the June 8 primary and remains the clear front-runner. She withstood multiple attacks in the closing weeks of the campaign, including a blogger’s charges of infidelity — he has since endorsed her candidacy — and an ethnic slur from a supporter of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. Since then, Barrett has stuck to an issue-based campaign.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Inglis (R) is in the fight of his political life against Spartanburg and Cherokee County prosecutor Trey Gowdy. Inglis placed second in the primary with only 28 percent of the vote, while Gowdy placed 11 points higher. Inglis, a six-term incumbent, has come under fire mainly for his vote in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. If he loses, tonight, he will be the third incumbent member of the House to lose renomination.


There is one national-level runoff here tonight, to determine the Republican challenger to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D). It is unlikely the eventual nominee will have a chance of winning in the general, as CQ Politics rates the seat as “Safe Democratic.”

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