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Primary Primer: Virginia, South Carolina and Maine

It's primary day -- again. Although there are fewer races on the ballot than last week, several interesting intraparty fights will be resolved today.

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The highest profile race of the day is in Virginia, where former Navy Secretary Jim Webb squares off with former technology lobbyist Harris Miller for the right to take on Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in the fall.

Both Maine and South Carolina play host to competitive gubernatorial primaries. The winner of the Republican primary in Maine could have a real shot of ousting Gov. John Baldacci (D), who has struggled somewhat in his first four years; no matter the identity of the Democratic nominee in South Carolina, Gov. Mark Sanford (R) starts as a strong favorite.

Below is a tipsheet for the races of note on the ballot today. Remember that this list is not intended to be comprehensive.

Virginia Senate

It's a rarity in Senate campaigns when not a single poll is released. Such is the case in Virginia where strategists for both Miller and Webb acknowledge that predicting the winner is almost impossible. Why? First, because there simply hasn't been a competitive Democratic Senate primary since 1994 when Sen. Chuck Robb beat back a challenge from conservative state Sen. Virgil Goode. (Goode later was elected to Congress and eventually switched party affiliation.) Second, turnout is expected to be abysmally low. Third, neither Webb nor Miller is particularly well known in the state. These three factors make developing a sure-fire turnout model an exercise in futility for any pollster. Will Webb's unorthodox credentials (he served in the Reagan administration) and popularity among the Democratic netroots bring voters to the polls who have not voted in past elections? Can Miller convince voters outside of northern Virginia that he can beat Allen? We simply don't know.

What we do know is that Miller has been the more aggressive of two candidates on the radio and television airwaves and in the mailbox -- thanks in large part to the $975,000 of personal money he has pumped into the race. Miller has been on television for two weeks (broadcast in most markets, cable in the costly Washington, D.C., market) and on the radio for 12 days. He has sent out nine pieces of direct mail and done nine automated phone calls to turn out voters. Webb, who has been hobbled financially by his late entry into the race, will not run a single television advertisement in the primary and just started a radio campaign last weekend.

In the end, the choice for voters who know something about both candidates is simple. Do they opt for Webb, who has questionable Democratic credentials but the résumé to give Allen a real race? Or do they reward Miller for his work over the years as a donor and party activist?

The Webb campaign has effectively used surrogates like Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to vouch for Webb, but Miller's ads have highlighted Webb's criticism of President Bill Clinton, his service in President Reagan's Pentagon and his endorsement of Allen in 2000 to effectively raise questions in voters' minds.

(washingtonpost.com's Virginia voters guide.)

Maine Governor

Three Republicans -- state Sens. Peter Mills and Chandler Woodcock, along with former Rep. Dave Emery -- are seeking the chance to challenge Gov. John Baldacci this fall. The two state legislators have opted into the state's public financing system, while Emery has decided to seek private financing. Emery is touting the importance of his ties to influential lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has raised money for his campaign and is now appearing in a television ad endorsing Emery. The race has drawn little attention in the state and a poll conducted for Mills in early May showed 43 percent of voters were undecided. Mills led the field with 23 percent followed by Emery at 22 percent and Woodcock at 12 percent.

Earlier this year Democrats made no secret of their concerns about Baldacci; polls have shown that he was struggling to win over voters. The incumbent's numbers have improved since then, however. At the end of May, an independent poll showed Baldacci with double-digit leads over all three potential Republicans. Several independents have also qualified for the fall ballot, a not insignificant development given the state's voting history -- Angus King, an independent, served two terms as governor in the 1990s.

Baldacci is in better shape than he was six months ago, but this is a race to watch.

South Carolina Governor

State Sen. Tommy Moore and Florence Mayor Frank Willis are battling it out for the Democratic nod. Willis is the more liberal of the two men -- he favors abortion rights while Moore does not, Willis opposes amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage while Moore supports it. And Willis has shown a willingness to dip deep into his pockets to fund the race -- $1 million in personal donations at last count. No polling of note has been released in the race, so it's difficult to get a sense of where the two men stand.

It's also not clear whether the Democratic nomination is worth having. Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has roughly $5 million in the bank and remains popular with the state's voters even as the Republican-controlled legislature has clearly soured on him. Sanford is a strong favorite in the general election no matter who wins today's Democratic primary.

Tune in tomorrow morning for The Fix's analysis of today's primaries.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 13, 2006; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Governors , Senate  
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Next: Conn. Senate: Will Lieberman Jump Ship?

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