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Can Michael Bennet eke out a win in Colorado?

1. Appointed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet faces voters for the first time Tuesday in a Democratic primary fight against state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff that has become a nip and tuck affair over the last week or so.

All of official Washington, including the White House, has lined up behind Bennet. But Romanoff is using his strength among Democratic activists (he won the state's assembly back in May and, with it, the top slot on today's ballot) and a last-minute loan courtesy of the sale of his house(!) to make a major move on the incumbent.

Romanoff also caught a break when, with just days left before Tuesday's primary, the New York Times ran a front-page story questioning a school financing decision made, in part, by Bennet, who was the superintendent of Denver public schools at the time.

While Bennet advisers acknowledge the race has tightened considerably in its final days, they believe that two factors are working in their favor.

The first is turnout, which they say will be quite high. (More than 300,000 ballots had already been cast by mail as of Monday.) Romanoff's strength is concentrated among the most loyal Democratic voters so, according to the Bennet calculations, the more people who vote, the better for them.

The second is an ad Romanoff ran in the final week of the race that accused Bennet -- with the help of billionaire Phil Anschutz -- of having "looted" millions in the private sector. The ad, which was roundly panned in the opinion pages of the state's largest newspaper, shifted momentum back in Bennet's favor, argue strategists for the incumbent.

If Bennet comes up short, he will be the third incumbent senator to lose a re-nomination race this cycle. Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) lost earlier this year. Unlike Specter and Bennett, however, Bennet was appointed--not elected--to his seat.

The Bennet-Romanoff race has, in recent days, overshadowed the fight on the Republican side between former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton and Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck.

Most public polling suggests Buck is the likely winner, but private data shows Norton with a real chance -- largely as a result of several impolitic remarks made by her opponent down the stretch.

Colorado will also host gubernatorial primary races today. Republicans are decidedly dispirited about their two candidates -- former Rep. Scott McInnis (plagiarism scandal) and businessman Dan Maes (campaign finance scandal).

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is unopposed for the Democratic governor's nomination and a favorite in the fall. Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) is running as a third party candidate, a move most Republicans believe seals their defeat in November.

2. Voters also head to the polls Tuesday in Connecticut, where the primaries for the state's open governor's seat will dominate the day.

A Quinnipiac poll released Monday showed the Democratic primary at a virtual tie, with 2006 Senate nominee Ned Lamont at 45 percent and Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy at 42 percent.

Sources on both sides acknowledge that Malloy, who narrowly lost a 2006 Democratic primary for governor, has been closing fast on Lamont. The question is whether momentum can carry Malloy across the line or whether Lamont -- and the personal money he has dumped into the race -- can hold on.

On the GOP side, former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley led Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele 38 percent to 30 percent. But like Malloy, Fedele has been closing in recent weeks, and about half of voters in the poll said they were open to changing their minds in the closing days. Fedele released a poll in recent days that showed him ahead of Foley.

Whoever emerges from the Democratic primary will almost certainly be favored in the fall.

In the Nutmeg State's Senate race, former Rep. Rob Simmons has been unable to close the gap on former WWE CEO Linda McMahon since re-entering the race in recent weeks; McMahon led in the Q poll by 22 points.

McMahon would move on to face state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is unopposed on the Democratic side. Sen. Chris Dodd (D) is retiring.

In House races, state Sen. Sam Caligiuri, Afghanistan veteran Justin Bernier and businessman Mark Greenberg are battling in the GOP primary for the right to face Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in the 5th district. State Sen. Dan Debicella is the favorite in the Republican primary to face Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.).

3. Republicans in the Georgia will (finally) choose their nominee to succeed term-limited Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) today.

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel faces former Rep. Nathan Deal in what's been one of the nastiest and most personal runoff contests this cycle -- and one that has drawn national Republican stars including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Huckabee and Palin are on opposite sides of the contest (Palin -- and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- have endorsed Handel; Huckabee is with Deal.)

The key areas to watch in the race will be the southern and eastern parts of the state. That's where two other unsuccessful competitors for the GOP nod - former state Sen. Eric Johnson and insurance commissioner John Oxendine - fared best in the July 20 primary. Eastern Georgia's Chatham County, which Johnson carried with 71 percent, will be especially key.

(For a breakdown of the July 20 results, check out this great map from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

Deal will also have to hustle to turn out supporters in his stronghold of Hall County, which he won with 64 percent in the primary. Handel will need to rally her base in Atlanta-based Fulton County, which gave her 62 percent last month, as well as densely-populated Cobb (where she won 41 percent) and Gwinnett (38 percent) counties.

Handel brought in Palin in an effort to rally those voters yesterday. At an event in Buckhead, Palin said that today's election will be "historic" and told the crowd, "The eyes of the nation are on you Georgia, to see if you get rid of that good old boy network."

Handel or Deal will run against former Gov. Roy Barnes (D) in the fall.

Republicans are also voting Tuesday in runoffs in Georgia's 7th and 9th.

In the 7th district, Jody Hice and Rob Woodall are facing off in the race for retiring Rep. John Linder's (R) heavily-GOP seat. Woodall, Linder's former chief of staff, finished first in the primary and has been endorsed by Huckabee, while Hice is backed by the Atlanta Tea Party.

In the 9th, Rep. Tom Graves, who was elected in the June special for Deal's former seat, is expected to cruise to victory in a rematch against his former opponent, former state Sen. Lee Hawkins.

4. A trio of Democrats will face off today in the Minnesota governor's race -- with the winner looking like an early favorite to replace Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).

Former Sen. Mark Dayton has been leading in polling throughout the race, thanks in large part to his residual name recognition and personal wealth. But, state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher has been endorsed by the state party and is regarded as the momentum candidate. Former state Rep. Matt Entenza has spent more than the other two candidates, but doesn't appear to be gaining significant traction.

Dayton led Kelliher 43 percent to 27 percent in a SurveyUSA poll released over the weekend. Entenza clocked in at 22 percent.

On the GOP side, state Rep. Tom Emmer does not face serious competition after winning the state party endorsement earlier this year. Emmer enters the general election trailing all three Democratic candidates; he overhauled his campaign team over the weekend -- bringing in well-regarded Minnesota operative Cullen Sheehan, who ran Norm Coleman's 2008 Senate race, to manage the bid.

Neither targeted House district in the state -- Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R) 6th district or Rep. Tim Walz's (D) 1st -- features a competitive primary. Bachmann is set to face state Sen. Tarryl Clark (D) this fall while Walz and state Rep. Randy Demmer (R) will square off.

5. Louisiana Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon is up with his first television ad, a spot that introduces the three-term Congressman to voters while also taking a shot at his opponent, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

"I'm Charlie Melancon, and I approved this message because David Vitter hasn't been honest with Louisiana and I don't expect anything different when he talks about my record," Melancon says in the ad. Speaking straight-to-camera, he casts himself as a "pro-life, pro-gun Louisiana Democrat" who will "work with anyone if it's the right thing to do for Louisiana."

The six-figure ad buy will be running in "the majority of Louisiana media markets" and focused particularly on the areas where Melancon is not known (which is pretty much everywhere outside of southeastern Louisiana), according to his campaign manager, Bradley Beychok.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee called Melancon's ad "misleading" and said that it "won't distract Louisiana voters from the fact that he has spent his time in Washington carrying Nancy Pelosi and President Obama's water as they ram their out-of-control job-killing agenda into law."

Vitter remains ahead of Melancon in recent polling, although Melancon's camp points to two factors that give their candidate an opening: Vitter remains below 50 percent and as many as nine independent and minor-party candidates will be running in the fall. (Whether that draws the vote away from Vitter or Melancon remains open to debate.)

In addition, Vitter's primary opponent, retired state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor , is planning to go up with his own TV ads this week hammering the incumbent senator's character. (Vitter has acknowledged his involvement in a D.C.-based prostitution ring and recently parted ways with a staffer who was involved in a violent incident with a former girlfriend.)

Vitter took on Traylor late last week in a fundraising email to supporters, claiming that Traylor is "a tool and stalking horse" for Melancon.

Early voting in the Bayou State begins Saturday -- two weeks before the Aug. 28 primary.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 10, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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