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Mixed results for party establishment in Colorado Senate primaries

1. Appointed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet's solid primary victory over former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff provided a much-needed piece of good news for the Democratic establishment in Washington who had lined up heavily behind the incumbent.

(Campaign 2010 Map: The Colorado Senate races)

Despite being heavily outspent by Bennet, Romanoff had closed considerably in the closing days of the contest -- riding an outsider message in a political climate very ready to hear it. But, Bennet's superior organization and money edge asserted itself on primary day as he jumped to a high single-digit lead and never was seriously challenged.

According to Bennet allies, Romanoff overplayed his hand (and lost momentum) with an ad that accused the incumbent of having "looted" Coloradans out of millions of dollars.

President Barack Obama had traveled to the state to raise money for Bennet, participated in a tele-town hall in the waning days of the race and lent his name image and voice to direct mail, robo-calls and ads. (Former President Bill Clinton endorsed Romanoff and recorded a robo call for him.)

Still, that Bennet, who ran a solid campaign with an experienced and tested team, faced the real possibility of defeat last night is evidence that voters are still very skeptical about keeping the status quo in Washington. (It's worth noting too that voters -- not just in this election cycle -- have tended to resist the idea of electing appointed Senators, a hurdle Bennet also had to overcome.)

While the DC-based political establishment got their wish with Bennet, national Republicans saw their preferred candidate -- former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton -- narrowly lose to Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck for the right to face Bennet this fall.

The Buck victory may be painted by some as yet more evidence of the Tea Party influence within the GOP -- Buck did have more of that sort of support than Norton -- but is better understood as an outsider beating an insider.

Norton, recruited into the race by national Republicans, never seemed to get her feet under her in the race and misjudged a climate looking to punish rather than reward establishment candidates.

In short, the jury remains out on just how anti-establishment this political year is and will be. There is clearly an anti-Washington sentiment in the country but Bennet proved last night that a good campaign that grasps the dangers of that environment early on can overcome it.

2. Didn't get enough of the contentious primary and runoff between former Rep. Nathan Deal (R) and former state Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) in the race for Georgia governor? Apparently, neither did the candidates. The race is down to the wire - and the winner may not be known for the next several days.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Deal led Handel by 2,431 votes out of 581,583 cast. Under Georgia law, candidates have the right to call a recount when the margin of victory is less than one percent. Deal's margin as of late Tuesday night was 0.4 percent.

It's not clear whether Handel will exercise that right although with such a close margin it seems likely.

Meanwhile, former Gov. Roy Barnes, the Democratic nominee, wasn't waiting to find out who his November rival would be, announcing Tuesday the launch of his first TV ad of the general election.

"Do we continue down the same path, with the same team that gave us ethics violations, teacher furloughs, tax breaks to special interests, homes foreclosed and misplaced priorities?" the narrator asks in the ad. The 30-second spot features clips of Georgia news reports detailing recent ethics and economic woes in the Peach State displayed - in what may be a first for a campaign ad -- on an iPad.

The ad will run in the Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, Columbus, Savannah and Albany media markets, according to Barnes' camp.

Little has been done by way of reliable public polling in the race, but several factors play in Deal's (or Handel's) favor, including the fact that Republicans outnumbered Democrats by nearly two-to-one in the July primary, the Peach State gave Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 52 percent of the vote in 2008 and President Obama's approval rating has dipped to 47 percent in the state.

Still, if Deal winds up on top, Democrats have to like their chances as the former Congressman has had to beat back charges of ethics violations in the immediate aftermath of his resignation from the House.

3. Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon won the Connecticut GOP Senate nomination on Tuesday, setting the stage for an intriguing matchup this fall with state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D).

McMahon beat the recently restarted campaign of former Rep. Rob Simmons (R), taking around 50 percent of the vote with most of the vote counted. Simmons was under 30 percent, while investment banker Peter Schiff took the remaining votes.

Democrats immediately sought to paint McMahon's win as a loss, noting that she received less than half of all votes cast in the GOP primary despite spending more than $20 million of her own money. Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo called McMahon's win "pathetic".

A recent Quinnipiac poll showed McMahon has closed the gap with Blumenthal, however. His lead has declined from 33 points to 10 points over the last five months. Blumenthal's campaign is expected to pick up where McMahon's GOP opponents left off and make an issue of how McMahon made her fortune -- a business critics contend is not the sort of thing Nutmeg State voters will ultimately condone.

In the state's governor's race, former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy was the big winner in the Democratic primary over former Senate candidate Ned Lamont. He will face former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley (R) who defeated Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele in a close race last night.

Malloy had the backing of the state party and organized labor, using both to surge late in the race. He will be an early favorite in the general election given Connecticut's Democratic roots.

The other governor's action of the night was in Minnesota where former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) authored a comeback victory over state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and moves on as the favorite against state Rep. Tom Emmer (R) in the fall.

4. Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is up with a new radio ad staking out some conservative territory on guns rights issues.

The commercial features a recording of Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson saying that he has doesn't "have a problem with minimal licensing" of firearms. Johnson has compared gun licensing to how we license cars.

The narrator, an unknown gun owner speaking on Feingold's behalf, says incredulously: "He supports licensing guns like cars? Well, Ron, that ain't freedom." Feingold then chimes in and says, "You shouldn't have to wait in line at the DMV to get a license for your constitutional rights and freedoms."

Feingold has often been on the conservative side of the ledger when it comes to 2nd Amendment rights though he does favor background checks and voted for the Brady Bill.

He has applauded recent Supreme Court decisions reinforcing the individual right to bear arms, including one that struck down the Washington, D.C., gun ban. But he received a "D" and an "F" from the National Rifle Association during his re-election campaigns in 2004 and 1998, respectively.

Feingold finds himself in a tougher than expected race against Johnson heading into the fall. Both Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook -- independent political handicappers -- have moved the race into their "toss up" category in recent weeks.

5. While much of the political world's attention was focused on last night's primaries, plenty was going on in Florida as well, where Rep. Kendrick Meek and billionaire real estate developer Jeff Greene sparred in their second televised tete-a-tete of the state's Democratic Senate primary.

The bulk of the 60-minute debate, which was hosted by Orlando-based WKMG-TV, consisted of the two Senate hopefuls tearing each other down over allegations of fraud and ethical misdoings.

Meek charged that Greene "enabled fraud" through his involvement in California real estate deals in which he signed blank deeds for properties that were sold to straw buyers and ultimately ended up in foreclosure. The Congressman also hit his rival for a 2007 trip to Cuba, for which Greene has given conflicting accounts.

"I have more integrity in my pinky than you have in your whole body," Meek said to Greene.

Greene, in turn, slammed Meek for seeking federal money for project spearheaded by Dennis Stackhouse, a developer who had hired Meek's mother -- former Rep. Carrie Meek -- as a consultant and paid her a $90,000 consulting fee.

"Do you intend, if you're a United States Senator, to continue to have your family members get cars, money, other kinds of benefits and then go ask for earmarks for the people providing these benefits?" Greene asked Meek.

As the Democratic race gets increasingly nasty -- and personal -- ahead of the Aug. 24 primary, former Sen. Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn is hosting a $4,800-a-person fundraiser in Washington tonight for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I).

The event is the latest indication that Crist is seeking to make inroads among Democratic donors, and while that spells bad news for Meek (who backed Clinton in her 2008 bid). Crist is without question the beneficiary of the nastiness between Greene and Meek as he hopes/needs to win over Democratic voters to have a chance at winning in the fall.

Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio is the Republican nominee.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 11, 2010; 8:17 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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