WASHINGTON -- It’s easy to overlook congressional primaries in a presidential election year. Though the outcome of most of Tuesday’s contests is almost certain, some races are worth watching.
Who will take on Claire McCaskill in Missouri?
The most-watched contest Tuesday will take place in Missouri, where three Republicans are vying for the party’s nomination to challenge embattled Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. There’s no clear front-runner, but polls suggest any of the candidates would enter the general election with an edge over McCaskill.
All three have won some support from people or groups that are influential in the tea party movement.
John Brunner, a wealthy executive who has spent $7 million of his personal fortune on the race, has the backing of the tea party group Freedom Works, and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, the favorite of the Tea Party Express, got a last-minute boost from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
If there is an underdog in the race, it’s Rep. Todd Akin, a six-term congressman who is endorsed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. But an ad by McCaskill, which brands Akin as “Missouri’s true conservative,” has provided a last-minute boost to his candidacy.
Will John Conyers survive?
The second longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has rarely faced a credible challenge for his Detroit-area seat. But redistricting, coupled with his wife’s conviction in a corruption scandal, threaten to derail Conyers’ 24-term career.
Conyers is swapping districts with his former chief of staff, Rep. Hansen Clarke, after Republicans redrew the lines of his district to include large portions of suburbs outside Detroit. The swap allows him to keep most of his old constituents, but could still hurt his chances at reelection.
Adding to Conyers’ problems, his wife, Monica, a former Detroit city councilwoman, is serving a federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to bribery conspiracy charges.
Conyers, 83, faces four Democratic challengers: state Sens. Bert Johnson and Glenn Anderson, state Rep. Shanelle Jackson and school board member John Goci. The winner will almost certainly win the general election in this heavily Democratic district.
Will the Santa candidate move closer to replacing Thaddeus McCotter?
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter really complicated things for Republicans when he abruptly resigned his post representing Michigan’s 11th District after failing to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.
The decision left the GOP with just one candidate who had submitted the necessary signatures: Kerry Bentivolio, a libertarian-leaning reindeer farmer and Santa impersonator.
Republicans scrambled to find an alternative, settling on former state Sen. Nancy Cassis, who launched a last-minute campaign as a write-in candidate. A recent poll shows Cassis leading Bentivolio, 52% to 36%.
But that survey is no guarantee she will win the primary, since voters will have to remember her name to write it in on the ballot.
The effort to circumvent the Santa candidate drew fire from Liberty for All, a "super PAC" founded by a college student who inherited a fortune from his grandfather. The student, John Ramsey, teamed up with a Kentucky political operative, Preston Bates, after the two campaigned for Rep. Ron Paul. The group aims to upset the Republican establishment by helping elect libertarian-minded candidates.
The group scolded the “state party establishment” for meeting behind closed doors to “pick a candidate they could count on to toe the moderate line.”
“That’s when Liberty for All stepped in to support the real conservative, and the grass-roots choice,” the group announced on its website. It has spent nearly $550,000 to assist Bentivolio, including more than $400,000 on ads against Cassis, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Round 2: Upton vs. Hoogendyk
Republican Jack Hoogendyk surprised political observers back in 2010 when he won 43% of the Republican primary vote against Rep. Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Hoogendyk is back at it this year, hoping to pull off the upset. And he’s gained support from one of the groups that helped Ted Cruz win his Texas primary last week.
Upton is still favored to win, but Hoogendyk’s past success makes this a race worth watching.
Battle of the political dynasties
It’s the Carnahans vs. the Clays in the Democratic primary for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District after Republicans redrew district boundaries.
Rep. Russ Carnahan, who currently represents the 3rd Congressional District, is one of five people in his family to serve elected office from Missouri. Rep. William Lacy Clay, son of Bill Clay, Missouri’s first black congressman, assumed his father’s 1st District seat in 2001.
But only one of them will go on to the general election in the race.