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Friday Line: Primary Colors

It's Good Friday and with the Fix's parents coming to visit for Easter, we're taking it slow today as we try to spruce up the house, wedge Charlie into his Easter outfit (he's a big boy) and generally put our lives in order.

But, it wouldn't be good Friday without a good Line so at this time of joy and celebration for those of the Christian faith, we thought we would highlight something that should bring joy to all political junkies around the globe: the ten best primary races in the country in 2009 and 2010.

Primaries are often painted as the warm-up act to the general election but often times they wind up eclipsing the main event -- the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign being a primary (heh!) example.

Friday Line

With so few actual issues differentiating the candidates, primaries often are decided on style and strategy -- two things the Fix loves about politics.

The number one ranked race -- a new one! -- is the best of the best when it comes to the pending primaries (duh) and, as, always your suggestions, words of praise or expressions of disagreement are welcome in the comments section below.

Dropping off the Line: New Hampshire Senate (D), Florida Senate (R), Kentucky Senate (D), Illinois Senate (D), Florida Senate (D).

Coming onto the Line: Nevada Governor (R), New York Senate (D), South Carolina Governor (R), California Governor (D), Pennsylvania Senate (R)

To the Line!

10. Nevada Governor (R): Nevada Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons (or just "0" in the parlance of Jon Ralston) has problems on top of problems. The latest? The unsealing of his divorce proceedings -- never good -- features allegations from his wife of multiple affairs including one with a former Playboy playmate. Former state Sen. Joe Heck, smelling political blood, is already in the primary race and others may join him. Can Gibbons possibly survive? It doesn't seem likely but stranger things have happened. (Previous ranking: N/A)

9. Illinois Governor (D): Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has never been much of a fundraiser. And, his likely primary opponent -- state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, has more than $4 million sitting in a state account that can be spent on a governor's race. On an unrelated note, Quinn proposed that all candidates running for governor in 2010 should start with a $0 balance in their campaign accounts. Um, ok. (Previous ranking: 6)

8. Kansas Senate (R): The Kansas Republican party has spent the last decade or so tearing itself apart in a battle between its conservative and moderate wings. Now comes a different sort of problem: two well known conservatives -- Reps. Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran -- both want to replace Sen. Sam Brownback (R) in 2010. Both candidates will be well financed and will run serious campaigns. Moran may be a slight favorite because his massive congressional district means he has been exposed to more of the state's voters but this is as close to a genuine toss up as you can get. (Previous ranking: 5)

7. New York Senate (D): Appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has struggled a bit in her first few months in office, but she showed what kind of candidate she will be earlier this week when she reported raising an eye-popping $2.3 million in the first three months of the year. Our sense is that Rep. Steve Israel is very serious about challenging Gillibrand, and, if he does, this race will move up our primary Line in coming months. If, on the other hand, Israel takes a pass and Gillibrand's only primary opponent winds up being Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, then this race won't spend much more time on our Line. (Previous ranking: N/A)

6. California Governor (R): Two extremely wealthy individuals -- state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former eBay president Meg Whitman -- with a posse of national consultants aligned on each side running for the GOP nomination in the country's largest state. This is going to be a terrific race. Whitman is a slight favorite at the moment, but she remains almost entirely untested as a candidate. So much can change between now and next year's primary. (Previous ranking: 3)

5. South Carolina Governor (R): This three-way race between Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Rep. Gresham Barrett and state Attorney General Henry McMaster is interesting on a number of levels. First, it's a rarity to see three popular elected officials risk their political careers on a race against one another. Second, the behind-the-scenes consultant battle that makes South Carolina Republican politics absolutely fascinating is well under way in this contest. Third, South Carolina's prominent place in the 2012 nominating process means that the race will get far more national attention from those interested in being the party's next presidential nominee than the typical gubernatorial primary. (Previous ranking: N/A)

4. Virginia Governor (D): The lone 2009 race on our Line, this primary has it all: a national hook in the form of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe's candidacy, scads of money (also courtesy of McAuliffe) and a genuine geographic debate about just how powerful northern Virginia will be in the overall math of a statewide primary. While McAuliffe -- and his larger-than-life personality -- is the big draw here, both former state Assemblyman Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds are credible candidates with a defensible path to the nomination. And, this race is less than two months away! (Previous ranking: 4)

3. California Governor (D): Because the eventual winner of this primary will be the odds-on favorite to be the next governor of California, expect a brawl for the Democratic nomination. The race is either a two or three candidate affair. State Attorney General Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom are in while Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa continues to mull a candidacy. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi is in the race but isn't seen as a serious factor and we can't find any sharp California observers who think Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is a real possibility as a candidate. Whoever wins the Democratic primary -- especially if it's Newsom or Villaraigosa -- will instantly become a major national figure and player in national politics in 2012 and beyond. (Previous ranking: N/A)

2. Texas Governor (R): There's no doubt that the race between Gov Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will be a bloody affair. But, of late, the two sides have generally played nice -- preferring to stalk one another from afar in advance of the melee. But, the battle plans are already drawn up. Perry will cast Hutchison as a squishy moderate, particularly on the abortion issue; Hutchison will paint Perry as an ineffective governor whose time has passed. (Previous ranking: 1)

1. Pennsylvania Senate (R): It takes a lot to knock the Texas race from the top spot but the pending primary between Sen. Arlen Specter and former Rep. Pat Toomey is, without doubt, the marquee intraparty scrap on the docket over the next two years. Toomey came within two points of ousting Specter six years ago and the landscape -- in terms of Republican registration -- has grown worse for the incumbent since then. Specter, however, is a political junkyard dog, and is already up on TV bashing Toomey -- before the former Congressman is even in the race. Love it! This is going to be a doozy. (Previous ranking: N/A)

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 10, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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I think the MI Gov race should be on here. The Democrats will surely challenge Lt. Gov. Cherry but the Republican side will be really fun to watch. A US Rep. (Hoekstra), MI AG (Cox), MI Sec of State (Land), and 2 wealthy CEO's (Brandon of Domino's and Snyder formerly of Gateway) are all running. Even more fun to think about is where they fit in the political spectrum. Brandon is the furthest right (Liz Cheny like) and will get the evangelical 20% vote, Hoekstra and Cox will fight for the "rank-and-file" 40%, and Lynn and Snyder are both moderates and are both known to be secretly pro-choice and more Rockefeller or Ron Paul Republican then the rest, and they will fight for the moderate, Reagan Democrat, crowd. I think the key will be who turns out and do the Dems/moderates vote in the Republican primary. But this a 5 way race where everyone should be around 20%. I really think Synder could finish first or last. He has huge appeal among the country club Republicans outside of Detroit and Ann Arbor and with his millions he should be able to advertise in Detroit for the suburban Republican vote. Being from that are will help since the rest aren't from the region.

Posted by: Kman23 | April 12, 2009 5:09 AM | Report abuse

Virginians: look at Creigh Deeds. He's a native jewel. Terry's ok, but an awful lot of baggage for an import. Creigh could win in more ways than one. For instance, in reminding folks that Democrats are a native species in VA. Think about it.

Posted by: nodebris | April 12, 2009 2:01 AM | Report abuse

Just the Montana angle on the 2010 elections. Montana has just one statewide race, for the state's single at-large US House District seat. Republican Denny Rehberg is standing for reelection and no serious Republican will challenge him Rehberg is comfortably conservative enough to pacify that extreme of the party but has showed moderate on some issues, such as supporting the CHIPs bill.
IT remains to be seen how the Democrats will shape up. The only prominent announced candidate is Dennis McDonald, the current state Democratic Party Chairman. McDonald has not held political office, but is an interesting character. He's billed as a rancher from Melrose and indeed has spent at least a couple decades running his Montana ranch. But he has a past, that of a prominent Los Angles trial lawyer who once defended a mafia boss.

Naturally the state's Republican Chairman has already had something catty to say about that.

No one has given Rehberg a serious challenge since his initial election fight with Nancy Keenan, the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction. That race was a three-point win for Rehberg. It's of course early, but no other prominent Democrat has said much publicly about the race. Democratic challengers have been underfunded with little name-recognition.

McDonald has some name recognition as state chairman, but not enough. He does have the personal fortune though to pay for a major campaign, as well as fund-raising abilities. This race, of course does not have enough national prominence to make the Fix list, primary or general, being for just one of 465 seats and Rehberg holding no major leadership post in the House.

There does not seem to be a visceral drive in Montana to dump Rehberg, the way there was in 2006 to replace Republican Senator Conrad Burns. And while Rehberg and Burns are pretty much on the same page politically, their public persona is much different. Rehberg comes off as a likable, down to earth person. I have had the chance to speak with him. Burns did not (nuff said).

Posted by: AlaninMissoula | April 11, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

flownover--you from Iowa by chance? A judge there maybe?

Posted by: KScrsdr | April 11, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Washington Post-a little civics' lesson-districts are based on population, not size and that also gives advantage to Tiahrt, whose 4th district outnumbered the 1st in the last census by 40,000+ and growing.

Posted by: KScrsdr | April 11, 2009 6:59 PM | Report abuse

madoug, if Rep Moran's 1st district is more conservative, then I'd give advantage to the more conservative candidate, Rep Tiahrt.

Posted by: KScrsdr | April 11, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Last two posts proving, once again, that the conservative movement is flatlining -- braindead.

Posted by: drindl | April 11, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Only left wing liberals gain respect from their denigration of authority.

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 11, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

there is no higher authority on depravity than our own resident loon drivl.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 11, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Here's the insane glenn beck... every day it's like this, inciting rage against obama:

"Maybe I'm alone, but I think it would just be faster if he [obama] just shot me in the head! You know what I mean? How much more -- how much more can he disenfranchise all of us?

We have Bill Schultz here, he's from Red Eye. And I'm just going to demonstrate at least how I feel, all right?

He then proceeds to douse Schultz with a clear liquid from a gas can (he promises it's actually water) and then hold up a lit match in his general vicinity."

Here we have a republican demonstrating --indeed, inciting people to commit violence -- sickness, absolutely moral depravity.

Posted by: drindl | April 11, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

poor zouk. never a single interesing thing to say. he has nothing, sadly. just anotehr moonbat, like his paranoid, deranged media idols"

"O’Reilly and Beck then became upset that at times, they feel personally threatened. Beck said that he has had to have two police cars outside of his house, and O’Reilly said that NBC News — driven by GE and “Internet haters” — have “hired guys” to personally “hurt” him and Beck:

BECK: [W]hen the ratings first started, you pulled me aside and said, “Buckle up, they’re going to come after you.” And they have. […]

O’REILLY: Because Immelt and Zucker, the two villains at NBC, have directly ordered this. They’ve hired the guys to do this. And they’ve done it because they have no other way to compete.

Now, both of those men are in trouble. They could be fired at any time, because the performance of General Electric and NBC is so abysmal. But they did it, so then, “Let’s see if we can drive Beck and O’Reilly to do something crazy. Let’s see if we can do — hurt them personally. Terrorize their families.”

BECK: Can I tell you something? When you have to explain to your 5- year-old why you have two police cars in front of your house for days. […]

O’REILLY: That’s driven by two elements. Internet haters, all right, and the General Electric Corporation."

Posted by: drindl | April 11, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

the cats are all fed and drivl has a little
Time to bark at the moon.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 11, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

a paleocon radio host...

What about the Republican Party right now? Isn't it on radio and TV claiming to be the party of fiscal responsibility and American power? Bypassing the stupidity of these claims, I am on radio, on what is called right-wing radio, and it is easy for me to see that my loudest colleagues, who compulsively repeat the cant of Conservatism for Dummies, are not sincere students of the Republican Party but rather barkers, ho*kers, establishmentarian jesters, cultists, and, in the worst instance, just thatch-headed whiners.

We few Republicans with long memories wander around the cemetery admiring the tombstones and enjoying the rain. I can hear you doubting that this could truly be the end. The final stage of grief is acceptance."

Posted by: drindl | April 11, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Make that "significant number"

Posted by: FlownOver | April 11, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I'd give the KS nod to Moran, but for other reasons. His persona and record are a little less extreme wingnutty than Tiahrt – more approachable to the significant of Kansas moderate R's who haven't had much to support in recent cycles.

Posted by: FlownOver | April 11, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse


(Special bonus: the original commentary written for "The Fix" that has twice elicited the "held for blog owner" message (?) and has failed to post here.

OR (if link is corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 11, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

hardycallcott, is that your heart talking? McClintock was barely able to squeak out a victory in the Fourth. I think that the votes are in the financially moderately conservative/socially moderately liberal quadrant.

Posted by: Kili | April 11, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Joe biden was telling a story about the time he was abducted by aliens. I believe him.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 11, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

King, again, you cannot enjoy any of the benefits of the stimulus package while you are living in your Mom's basement, allegedly, possibly, no, almost certainly... BTW, you may get a postacrd from Texas politician Betty Brown soon to change your last name, Kouk, to something she can understand better. Be on the lookout.

Posted by: broadwayjoe | April 11, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I don't know why anyone considers Newsom to be a serious candidate for governor in California. He's been a horrible mayor. I can't imagine him breaking more than 15% of the vote

Posted by: davidlwickham | April 11, 2009 2:59 AM | Report abuse

Chris, Regarding the Kansas Senate Race where it's suggested Moran has the advantage because of the size of his district exposes him to more voters. Seems an uncharacteristic slip as districts are clearly based on population - both have 672,000 people. It would be more on point to suggest that Moran's district is decidedly more Republican and yields greater margins and total votes for the R's than does Tiahrt's district.

Posted by: daniel57 | April 11, 2009 1:21 AM | Report abuse

Never, ever, have I observed such utter incompetence
In a US leader. The worst combination of carter and clintonn. Egads.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 10, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Chris, I think you underestimate the problems Kirsten Gillibrand is going to have in New York, whether Steve Israel gets in the race or not. Yes, she's raised a bunch of money and you always seem to place a tremendous premium on that (and you are correct, it's often determinative, but I don't think it will be in this case).

Gillibrand's problem is that she was an extremely conservative Democrat (100% approval rating from the NRA), which she had to be because she represented a conservative district that was, historically, a safe Republican seat.

Since being appointed, she's flipped most of her positions 180 degrees: She now wants to work on gun control, she's repudiated her hard-line immigration stance, and she's suddenly in favor of gay marriage.

She makes Mitt Romney look like a rock of conviction.

Unless the Democratic field is badly splintered (always a possibility), she's going to have a really hard time.

Posted by: Bondosan | April 10, 2009 11:14 PM | Report abuse

Moran has an advantage over Tiahrt in the Kansas Senate race due to Moran's district being a much more conservative district (in terms of its voting record) than Tiahrt's district. This is largely due to Moran's district being much more rural than Tiahrt's district.

Chris, I think Tennessee Governor (R), Michigan Governor (R), Ohio Senator (D), and Rhode Island Governor (D) should merit consideration for the next line involving primaries. People might discount Rhode Island because of the likelihood of Chafee joining the race as an Independent. However, the Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and State Treasurer (all Democrats) are seriously considering the race for Governor.

Posted by: madoug | April 10, 2009 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Don't miss former Congressman Tom Campbell in the California R-Gov race. He's the most experienced likely candidate and will have the support of the Governator. And expect a serious candidate (Tom McClintock?) to the right of Poizner and Whitman, which is where the votes are.

Posted by: hardycallcott | April 10, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

OR-Gov (D) will be good too and Mich-Gov (R)

Posted by: AnthonyJBrady | April 10, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Oy. I'm registered democratic, and while I perhaps could accept Brown again (I was a kid last time he was Governor), but Newsom and Villaraigosa, ugh. I think I'd end up voting for the Republican candidate for the second time in my life (I voted Republican last time, but would have voted for Westly).

The CA Republican Party has been busily beating itself to death, but we seem to be getting more extreme in the Democratic candidates as well. We're one sick state.

Posted by: Kili | April 10, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

What about the big-picture trends, especially in the Republican primaries?
If Toomey, Perry, and Poizner win, does that mean the conservatives have taken over the party (again)?

Posted by: willikard | April 10, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

My fellow Texans, have you seen any groundswell away from KBH toward Goodhair?

I am in Austin, so my view is by no means representative. Polling that I have seen heavily favors KBH, however.

Do any of you think Goodhair will win? Where are you, and why do you think that?

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 10, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Hey Chris, thanks for finally putting California Governor (D) primary on the line and giving it its well deserved third ranking.

Villaraigosa will almost certainly jump in, making it a three way affair with Newsom and Brown. I doubt that Villaraigosa will be a strong contender though given his lack luster charisma.

I'd give the edge to Former Governor Brown at this point in the game, but Newsom will definitely be a fearless candidate.

Posted by: Irish_Bruin | April 10, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Based on the 2000 Census, Tiahrt's district actually has 10 more people in it than Moran's. Remember, the idea is that districts should be roughly equal in population, so geographic size doesn't equal more people.

Posted by: mitchjones | April 10, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

What exactly have been Gillibrand's difficulties?

Posted by: DDAWD | April 10, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

This category is likely to require expansion: for the 2010 cycle there will be more than 10 primary battles worth watching. In MN, for example, we'll have the Dems out for blood, after 20 some years without holding the governorship. On the R side, if Pawlenty doesn't run they have a pretty limited bench. Meanwhile the R party is facing an identity crisis not unlike that of the national GOP, covered by the MN Post today:

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 10, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Chris, are you aware that this week is also Passover, which is also a "time of joy and celebration" just like Easter? Why wouldn't you include that? Surely you realize that lots of your readers are Jewish.

That said - another great line! By Moran in Virginia is NOT a former "state Assemblyman." I believe that in VA you'd have to call him a former "state delegate".

Posted by: RussellNewYork | April 10, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

The R PA Senate primary will definitely be fun to watch. Depending on who jumps in, the Ds might be fun too. Either way, it is no time to be an I in PA -- time to choose a party/race to follow! Let the mass mailing begin!

Posted by: mnteng | April 10, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

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