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What to Watch For: Downballot Races Dominate

Today may be the end of the presidential primary fight between Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) but it's only the beginning of the primary season in the battle for control of Congress.

Seven states -- Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota -- hold Congressional primaries today, the results of which will directly impact the fight for the majority in the House and the Senate in the fall.

Here's a look at the downballot races to watch today:

SENATE

New Jersey Senate: New Jersey politics -- God bless it! -- is never dull. Just when it looked like Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) would coast to reelection, Rep. Rob Andrews decided now was the time to finally make good on his plans to run statewide. Andrews has tried to frame the race as a generational choice; Lautenberg is 84, Andrews 50. (The Post's Paul Kane writes today on the age issue in New Jersey as a potential precursor for the fall campaign against Sen. John McCain.) Andrews is expected to come up short due to his inability to break Lautenberg's organizational stranglehold in northern New Jersey. For Republicans, former Rep. Dick Zimmer is expected to win the primary and, if he does, could keep the Garden State interesting in the fall.

New Mexico Senate: The action here is on the Republican side where Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson are facing off. Pearce appears to have the edge heading into today's voting -- buoyed by his more conservative voting record in Congress and an assist from the Club For Growth, which has sponsored more than $600,000 ads attacking Wilson on taxes and spending. Rep. Tom Udall will cruise to the Democratic Senate nod and begins as the frontrunner in the general election.

HOUSE

Alabama's 2nd district: Democrats believe Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright is the kind of candidate who can steal this solidly Republican seat in the fall. Republicans aren't overwhelmed with their own choices -- three state legislatures and a wealthy surgeon among others. Republicans could well be headed toward a July runoff if no candidate can get 50 percent in the primary today.

Alabama's 5th district: The retirement of Rep. Bud Cramer (D) in this northern Alabama seat gives Republicans a rare open-seat pickup opportunity. State Sen. Parker Griffith, who has been endorsed by Cramer, should easily win the Democratic nomination; the Republican contest is a more crowded affair although Wayne Parker who lost two contest for the seat in the 1990s is assumed to be the frontrunner. The district gave President Bush 60 percent of the vote in 2004 and will be a focus for both parties in the fall.

California's 4th district: The Republican primary between former Rep. Doug Ose and state Sen. Tom McClintock is a classic ideological battle between a moderate (Ose) and a conservative (McClintock). Ose has dumped nearly $3 million of his own money into the contest and McClintock has benefited from spending by the Club for Growth. Charlie Brown, who nearly ousted retiring Rep. John Doolittle (R) in 2006, is back again and released polling Monday that showed him leading either GOPer.

Iowa's 3rd district: Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) has weathered a series of general election challenges in recent years but this time faces a primary race from his ideological left in the form of former state Rep. Ed Fallon. Fallon has charged that Boswell is too conservative for the progressive Des Moines-area district; Boswell has questioned Fallon's Democratic bona fides -- noting that he voted for Ralph Nader in 2000.

New Jersey's 3rd district: Democrats have unified behind state Sen. John Adler while Republicans will decide between Lockheed Martin vice president Chris Myers and Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly today. Myers has the endorsement of outgoing Rep. Jim Saxton (R) but Kelly has been surprisingly aggressive and effective.

New Jersey's 7th: Another Garden State open seat, another contested Republican primary. The GOP fight to replace Rep. Mike Ferguson (R) will come down to state Sen. Leonard Lance and Kate Whitman, the daughter of former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman (R). State Assemblywoman Linda Stender who came within 3,000 votes of beating Ferguson in 2006, will be the Democratic nominee.

New Mexico's 1st district: The departure of Wilson for a Senate bid has thrown open this swing seat, which has been trending toward Democrats over the last two presidential elections. Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich is the favorite for the Democratic nomination but faces a real challenge from former New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. State and National Republicans have lined up behind Darren White, the sheriff of Bernalillo County.

New Mexico's 2nd district: This massive southern New Mexico seat tilts heavily toward Republicans but national Democrats believe they could have a chance there. The Democratic primary features free spending former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague, who has been endorsed by Gov. Bill Richardson (D), and Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley. Teague is the presumed frontrunner. On the Republican side, the picture is even less clear as no one candidate has emerged from a crowded field. Ed Tinsley, who ran for the seat unsuccessfully in 2002, is in the mix as are former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman and rancher Aubrey Dunn Jr.

New Mexico's 3rd district: Ben Ray Lujan, the son of state House Speaker Ben Lujan, is the strong favorite in the Democratic primary although real estate developer Don Wiviott has run a well-financed and sound campaign. The race was dragged in the dirt over the weekend when a longshot candidate implied in a debate that Lujan was gay and hiding his true identity from voters in the district. Whoever wins the Democratic nod is almost certain to be the next Congressman as the district went for Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) by nine points in 2004.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 3, 2008; 6:15 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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