Primary Season Begins With First Returns

Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina announced the results of their primaries Wednesday, heralding the start of a long and difficult road to Congressional seats in November.

Voters in Ohio chose Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in the state’s Democratic primary over Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, according to The Associated Press. Fisher will face Rob Portman, unopposed winner of the GOP primary, in November to fill Sen. George Voinovich’s (R-Ohio) Senate seat. Portman is said to have $7 million more than Fisher in his campaign treasury.

Former Sen. Dan Coats (R) was chosen in Indiana by Republican voters to reclaim his Senate seat from retiring Democrat Evan Bayh. Coats trumped Marlin Stutzman, a state senator, for the nomination and will now face the expected Democratic nominee Rep. Brad Ellsworth. The guns have already been drawn in this battle, with Democrats drawing Coats as a Washington lobbyist and Republicans aligning Ellsworth with liberal positions on health care.

North Carolina Democrats must still face a June 22 runoff to decide the party’s nominee, as North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and former state Sen. and Iraq war veteran Cal Cunningham ran 1-2 on Tuesday night. Republican incumbent Richard Burr won his primary with little trouble.

Primary season began Tuesday in three states as voters headed to the polls during one of the busiest primary days in 2010. This set off the five-week burst of election activity, during which three states will hold special House elections, and 23 states will hold primaries.

The returns from Tuesday’s votes are expected to provide the clearest sign of the political mood six months prior to the midterm elections. Primary tilts, which are scheduled from the first Tuesday in May to almost every other until the fall, are also used to test the clout of the political establishment and national parties that have promoted their preferred candidates.

In Ohio, voters chose Republican and Democratic nominees for Ohio’s seats in the US House. Rep. Jean Schmidt kept a hold on her Republican Second District seat. Schmidt will face Democratic candidate Surya Yalamanchili, who once appeared on “The Apprentice.”

Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio), representing the Sixth District, is running for re-election and will face Republican Bill Johnson.

In the 13th District, Democratic incumbent Betty Sutton will face off against Republican Thomas Ganley. Ganley has put up millions of his own money to challenge Sutton for her House seat.

In the 14th District, the only Republican Congressman in Northeast Ohio’s Congressional delegation, Steve LaTourette, won unopposed in his party primary Tuesday. He will face the Democratic nominee, Bill O’Neill.

Jim Renacci won the Republican nomination for the 16th Congressional District and will face John Boccieri, a conservative Democrat who won the district two years ago after nearly 60 years of Republican rule. Boccieri ran unopposed in the primary.

James Traficant Jr. will challenge party nominees for the 17th Congressional District as an independent. Traficant, a convicted felon who served as a nine-term Democratic Congressman, was released from prison in September on counts of bribery, cheating on taxes and racketeering. Traficant and James Graham, the winner of the GOP primary, will face Democratic incumbent Tim Ryan in November.

In the 18th District, state Sen. Bob Gibbs is in a virtual tie with Ohio Agriculture Secretary Fred Daily. One of the two will run against incumbent Zack Space in what is considered a swing district.

Incumbent Cleveland Democrats Marcia Fudge and Dennis Kucinich also won their party’s nomination.

In Indiana, several polls have indicated the Republican nominee would be favored, as prior to Obama’s election in 2008, Indiana voted red in all but three presidential elections back to 1928.

The Second District race in Indiana will feature state Rep. Jackie Walorski, the Republican candidate, against Democrat incumbent Joe Donnelly.

Rep. Mark Souder (R) survived a difficult primary challenge to his Third District seat from Bob Thomas (R). Thomas, a wealthy car dealer, has attacked the Congressman for having weak conservative credentials. Speaking of Thomas, Souder said: “I didn’t even know it was legal to be to the right of me.” Next, Souder will face Democrat Tom Hayhurst, a former city councilman who ran against him four years ago.

In the Fourth District, Todd Rotika, the state’s secretary of state, has won the 13-candidate seat of retiring Rep. Steve Buyer on the Republican side. The Democratic challenger will be David Sanders, a Purdue University professor who had previously lost to Buyer.

In the polls for its House seats, Republican incumbent and Indiana’s longest-serving Congressman Dan Burton of the Fifth Congressional District survived a stiff primary challenge from Luke Messer in the five-way GOP primary race.

Heart surgeon Larry Bucshon (R) won the eight-candidate primary for the Eighth District seat vacated by Brad Ellsworth (D). The Democratic nominee is state Rep. Trent Van Haaften.

In the Ninth District, Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) came up short in his fifth consecutive run for election since 2002 against the incumbent Democrat Rep. Baron Hill. Hill has won the last two. Republicans nominated first-time candidate Todd Young, a lawyer and Marine Corps veteran, instead.

In North Carolina, marked heavily by low voter turnout with only 15 percent of registered voters participating, all Congressional incumbents won.

Democratic Reps. G.K. Butterfield of the First District and Health Shuler in the 11th won their primary races. Republican Rep. Howard Coble withstood his first primary challenge Tuesday, beating five opponents for the Sixth Congressional District seat. Coble had not run in a Republican primary for 26 years.

In the race for the US House of Representatives, the Eighth District is particularly colorful. Six Republicans are fighting for the opportunity to take on Rep. Larry Kissell (D) and a June 22 runoff is expected. Millionaire and former paratrooper Tim D’Annunzio, who is widely believed to have bought himself a place in the runoff with the $1 million of his own money, and Harold Johnson, a retired sportscaster who campaigned as a Reagan conservative, are each near 40 percent of the vote.

Official results also show that GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry beat three opponents and regained his Tenth District seat, while Reps. Walter Jones in the Third District and Virginia Foxx in the Fifth also won their primary races with ease.

Despite the large sums of personal money spent by his opponents, fourth term incumbent Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R) won the GOP primary in the Tenth District to face Democratic contender Jeff Gregory, a retired postmaster.

Second term Rep. Heath Shuler (D) won the Democratic nomination with 61 percent of the vote. On the Republican side, there is a runoff between Jeffrey Miller, the founder of a nonprofit group which flies World War II veterans to Washington, DC, to tour the city and memorial sites, and ophthalmologist Dan Eichenbaum. They garnered 40 and 33 percent of the vote respectively.

The Wall Street Journal has highlighted the trend in this year’s primaries of some conservatives – “car dealers, Internet millionaires, real-estate developers and doctors” – tired of the Obama administration entering the primaries on their own dime.

The New York Times has noted another recent trend in the GOP. The number of black candidates both galvanized by Obama’s election and frustrated by the results of his presidency are running in Congressional races in record numbers, said to be the highest since Reconstruction.

Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania will hold the next set of large, competitive Congressional primaries on May 18.