The ten best primary races in the country
In just 25 days, voters in Illinois will head to their polling places to pick nominees for contested Senate and gubernatorial races. Twenty eight days after that, Texas holds it primary with the fight between Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison already shaping up as a modern classic.
In other words: primary season is upon us!
The Fix, as regular readers know is a HUGE fan of intraparty skirmishes as, typically without significant differences on issues, the winning candidate is the one who runs the better strategic campaign.
The primary ante has been upped significantly this cycle on the Republican side where all across the country the battle for control of the future of the party between the establishment and the grassroots is playing out.
Eight of the ten primaries that made our Line are squabbles within the GOP and most, though not all, feature a candidate behind which the establishment has rallied against a candidate running as an outsider to the political process.
Who wins these races will go a long way to determining who is really in control of the Republican party heading into this year's midterms and, as importantly, the 2012 presidential nomination fight.
The primaries on the Line are ranked by their competitiveness and long-term import to the party. The number one race is regarded as the single most consequential primary in the country this year.
As always, your thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.
To the Line!
10. Arkansas Senate (Republican primary): The Republican race for the right to run against vulnerable Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a crowded affair -- eight people are announced! -- with several candidates able to make the case that they should be the nominee. State Sen. Gilbert Baker is the establishment favorite but Safe Foods CEO Curtis Coleman has the backing of some of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's fundraising team and state Sen. Jim Holt is perhaps the best known candidate in the race following his loss to Lincoln in 2004. (Previous ranking: N/A)
9. Arizona Senate (R): It's no secret that Sen. John McCain and the conservative wing of his party have never seen eye to eye. Despite that animosity, McCain has managed to avoid any serious primary challenge during his more than two decades in office. That may change this year with reports that former Rep. J.D. Hayworth is seriously considering a bid. McCain is still a favorite but he has made lots of enemies on the ideological right over the years who might view a Hayworth candidacy as a chance at payback. If Hayworth does run, McCain may well have to call on his former vice presidential running mate -- former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- to serve as a validator for him to the conservative wing of the party. (Previous ranking: 10)
8. Kentucky Senate (R): The race between Secretary of State Trey Grayson and businessman Rand Paul hasn't received the national attention of the Florida Senate race but it may well be just as good a story. Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, has surprised many -- including the Fix -- with his fundraising prowess and is starting to garner some bigger name endorsements including from 1996 and 2000 presidential candidate Steve Forbes. Grayson is the handpicked choice of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to replace retiring Sen. Jim Bunning and, as such, a Grayson defeat would be a major national story. (Previous ranking: 8)
7. California Governor (R): Speculation runs rampant that Rep. Tom Campbell is planning to switch from the governors race to the Senate contest, a move that would turn the primary into a one on one fight between former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. Both candidates are giving heavily from their own wallets -- more than $19 million for each to date -- but conventional wisdom is that Whitman has more to give, a major advantage in a state as expensive to run a campaign as California. (Previous ranking: 5)
6. Illinois Governor (Democratic primary): It's getting nasty between Gov. Pat Quinn and state Comptroller Dan Hynes. Hynes is up with a television ad bashing Quinn for the early release of 1,700 prisoners in a cost cutting move; "We have to do better," says the ad's narrator. A poll conducted for the Chicago Tribune showed Quinn with a comfortable lead but it's clear the prisoner release story has hurt his campaign. And, the anti-incumbent sentiment sweeping the nation won't help Quinn either. Will he be the first casualty of voters who are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore? (Previous ranking: N/A)
5. New Hampshire Senate (R): When former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) got into the open seat race to replace retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R), she appeared to have a glide path to the nomination with national Republicans -- including the retiring incumbent -- behind her. Things have gotten considerably more complicated since then, however, with conservative Ovide Lamontagne and wealthy businessman Bill Binnie now running. Binnie, an unknown to the state's political class, made clear his commitment to the race by dumping $1.2 million of his own cash into his campaign in the final quarter of 2009. (Previous ranking: N/A)
4. Nevada Senate (R): With Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-Conn.) retirement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is now the most vulnerable incumbent up for re-election in 2010. While Republicans failed to get any of their preferred candidates to run against Reid, they are still headed for a very spirited primary . And, because it's Nevada, the primary has taken on a circus-like feel with a former Miss New Jersey (Sue Lowden), the son of a famous basketball coach (Danny Tarkanian) and a wealthy businessman no one's ever heard of (John Chachas) all running. The winner of the GOP primary will be an even money bet -- at worst -- to oust Reid so the stakes couldn't be higher. (Previous ranking: 6)
3. Pennsylvania Senate (D): The battle between party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak has been overshadowed somewhat of late by the two races in front of it on the Line but it has all the makings of a classic. Specter will have a spending advantage and the support of the Democratic establishment including President Obama. Sestak is positioning himself as an outsider, a smart move given the anti-Washington mood of the country. This race has yet to truly engage but with the primary now roughly four months away (May 18), you can expect both men to pick up their level of activity -- and intensity -- in the near future. (Previous ranking: 2)
2. Florida Senate (R): Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio's challenge to Gov. Charlie Crist has officially become a major national story. Need evidence? Check out Timesman Mark Leibovich's magnum opus on the race -- and what Rubio's candidacy tells us about the tea party movement -- in the paper's Sunday magazine. While conventional wisdom seems to favor a Rubio victory at the moment, the race is still very far off -- the primary is Aug. 24 -- and Crist is going to have a clear spending advantage that he will use to try to raise questions in primary voters' minds about Rubio's conservative bona fides. (Previous ranking: 3)
1. Texas Governor (R): The primary is rapidly approaching in the Lonestar State and there is a growing sense that Hutchison has to find a way -- quickly -- to change the dynamic. Give Perry credit: he has taken the fight to KBH for the entirety of the race so far, repeatedly emphasizing his conservative credentials and questioning her motivation for running. Hutchison's considerable campaign warchest and strong image among Texas primary voters mean she still has a real chance at winning but Perry has to be thrilled where he finds himself in the contest today. (Previous ranking: 1)
January 8, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
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