WASHINGTON (AP) — Voters cast ballots Tuesday in primary elections in six states, plus a runoff in Mississippi. Highlights:
TOP OF THE TICKET
The top race was Mississippi’s often-bitter Republican contest between veteran Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a tea party-backed insurgent who channeled voters’ anti-Washington mood and forced a runoff.
In a last-ditch effort, six-term Cochran reached out to traditionally Democratic voters — blacks and union members — who were eligible to participate in the runoff. People who cast ballots in the June 3 Democratic primary could not vote in the runoff.
The Mississippi contest threatened to cast aside the 76-year-old Cochran, who sent billions of federal dollars to his poor state over a long career. His 41-year-old challenger said taxpayers could not afford that federal largesse.
NEW LEADER FOR NEW YORK?
Looking for a 23rd term, Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) of New York worked to fend off a state senator who could become the first Dominican-American member of Congress.
The 84-year-old Rangel, the third-most-senior member of the House, faced a rematch against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat in Harlem and upper Manhattan. Two years ago, Rangel prevailed in the primary by fewer than 1,100 votes.
In this race, Rangel said Espaillat “wants to be the Jackie Robinson of the Dominicans in the Congress,” adding that Espaillat should tell voters “just what the heck has he done besides saying he’s a Dominican?”
In such a heavily Democratic city, the primary victor is widely expected to win the general election in November.
DOUBLE DIPPING IN OKLAHOMA
Both of Oklahoma’s U.S. Senate seats were on the ballot for the first time in recent history.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) sought to fend off minor challengers in the Republican primary in one of those contests. In the other, two of the party’s ascending stars traded barbs while seeking the other GOP spot on November’s ballot.
Sen. Tom Coburn stunned state and national Republicans alike when he announced he was stepping down from his seat. Two-term Rep. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon emerged as the leading Republican candidates.
Shannon, 36, is Oklahoma’s first African-American speaker of the House and its youngest. He is also a member of the powerful Cherokee Nation and questioned if Lankford was sufficiently conservative.
Lankford, a former Southern Baptist camp leader, is a 46-year-old rising star in House leadership. But he supported bipartisan budget agreements and voted to increase the nation’s borrowing authority — favorite objections for tea party leaders.
An August runoff remained a strong possibility if no candidate captured 50 percent support.
Oklahoma has not elected a Democrat to an open Senate seat since David Boren in 1978, and Republicans were expected to hold it.
Utah technically had a primary, but there was to be little suspense and even fewer consequences.
The state is essentially a one-party operation where Republicans are guaranteed to occupy most major offices. The party selected its nominees for the state’s four congressional districts, governor and attorney general at its party convention, and Tuesday’s vote was largely unnecessary.
Democrats did the same, but they’re unlikely to get anywhere in November.
COLORADO GOP DIVIDED
In Colorado, primary day was also an all-Republican affair, a reflection of how the party remains divided in that key state.
Four candidates were competing for the party’s nomination to challenge Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. Former Rep. Tom Tancredo earned the most attention and outside Republicans aired ads trying to derail him, fearing his firebrand reputation on immigration would drag down the entire ticket in November.
Competing with Tancredo were former Rep. Bob Beauprez, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
Four Republicans were also competing for the party’s nomination to replace Rep. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is passing on re-election to challenge Democratic Sen Mark Udall. District Attorney Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), a former Senate candidate, was seen as the front-runner there. He faced state Sen. Scott Renfroe, County Commissioner Barbara Kirkland and Scott Laffey, a recent arrival who ran for Senate in his native Rhode Island.
In Colorado Springs, four-term Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) was being challenged by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn, who was hoping to pull off an Eric Cantor-style upset.
Tuesday’s primaries were unlikely to affect the partisan makeup of the Senate.
Udall and Gardner were assured of their parties’ nominations. Their Nov. 4 contest will help determine whether Republicans can pick up the six seats they need to control the Senate next year.
Mississippi and Oklahoma are solidly Republican states, so whoever won those GOP primaries would be strongly favored in November.
S.C. SCHOOLS CHIEF
The widow of legendary Republican strategist Lee Atwater faced the leader of South Carolina’s principals’ and superintendents’ association, Molly Spearman.
Sally Atwater, a longtime fixture in GOP politics and a former educator, struggled as a first-time candidate. Debates did not favor her and, in one interview, she was unable to explain her position on whether sex education and evolution should be taught in public schools.
Even so, turnout was low throughout the day and a relatively low number of votes could decide the position.
The late Lee Atwater was a top strategist for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. His hard-charging tactics are legendary in GOP circles, although his wife’s campaign did not seem to harness them.
Sheila Gallagher and Tom Thompson were competing for the Democratic nomination in the heavily GOP state.
The next major date is July 22, when voters in Georgia will pick between Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) for the Republican nomination for Senate in a runoff.
Associated Press writers Charles Babington in Washington, Nicholas Riccardi in Denver and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
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