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Incumbents Face Fight for Life in Tuesday’s Key Primary Races

June 7, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Voters across the country prepare to cast ballots in the biggest day of primary elections, as 10 states host contests on Tuesday. Judy Woodruff talks with Amy Walter of Hotline and Dan Balz of The Washington Post for a preview of the races to watch.
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: tea parties, endangered incumbents, and runoffs. Tuesday will have it all.

Judy Woodruff previews the biggest primary day of 2010.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Voters across the country will head to the polls tomorrow. Ten states are holding primary contests. There’s also a runoff primary election in Arkansas for a Senate seat and a special House election in Georgia.

Here to walk us through some of the key races to watch, Amy Walter, editor in chief of The Hotline, “National Journal”‘s political daily, and Dan Balz, senior political reporter for The Washington Post.

Thank you both, Amy and Dan.

Amy, let’s start with you. We’re going try to run through five races. Let’s start with Arkansas. You have this runoff in the Senate Democratic primary, incumbent Blanche Lincoln, being challenged by Bill Halter, and she’s run into some trouble.

AMY WALTER, editor in chief, The Hotline: She’s run into a lot of trouble. The fact that she got into a runoff in the first place was a sign of trouble. And, usually, when an incumbent is held under 50 percent of the vote in the first round, it’s very hard for them to get any of those votes back in the second round, which is this runoff that we have against Bill Halter.

You know, the interesting thing is, this is — for all the talk about the insider-vs.-outsider dynamic going on — clearly, Blanche Lincoln, as the incumbent, is the insider — it’s really hard, though, to call Bill Halter the clear outsider, when, first of all, he is the lieutenant governor, so it is not as if he didn’t come from some establishment background.

But the fact is, outside groups are really a big key to his campaign. They have funded him through the Internet, and, mostly, labor unions pouring millions of dollars in attack ads against Blanche Lincoln have been a big part of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan Balz, how much of an issue is this insider-outsider thing? And what does it say if Blanche hundred loses here?

DAN BALZ, senior political reporter, “The Washington Post”: Well, it — I think the most important thing it says is that labor has really flexed its muscles in Arkansas. Certainly, there is an anti-incumbent issue involved in this and an insider-outsider.

But, as Amy said, it is the outside influence of the labor unions in particular and some progressive groups. I mean, labor has put close to $9 million into this state, into this race, as a way to send a message. And when Bill Clinton, former president, went down to campaign for Blanche Lincoln, he said that the labor unions are trying to make an example of her, which is exactly what they are trying to do.

They are trying to show that those Democrats who don’t advance the issues that they want and, in their estimation, aren’t working for average working families ought to pay a price. And they’re trying to make an example of Blanche Lincoln in this campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, let’s — let’s pick up on this outsider theme and talk about California. You have got two races for the Senate and for governor, both instances a woman, a former corporate CEO in the Senate race, Carly Fiorina, who was the head of Hewlett-Packard, up against two more familiar figures in politics in California.

DAN BALZ: Yes. In that race at that point, Carly Fiorina is the favorite to win the Republican nomination to go against Barbara Boxer, the incumbent Democrat, in November.

This has been an interesting race, in part because it has been a test of what people think is the best sort of profile to go against Barbara Boxer in the fall. Carly Fiorina is conservative on economic and social issues. Tom Campbell, a former House member who is her leading opponent, is conservative on economic issues, but moderate on social issues.

And there was a recent poll that showed that he was running stronger against Barbara Boxer in November than Carly Fiorina would. Carly Fiorina has worked very hard and very aggressively to corral the conservative vote in a primary where conservatives are dominant.

She’s got the support of Sarah Palin, for example. It looks as though she is going to win. But the question is whether someone with that profile can win statewide in California. It has been two decades since Californians have elected somebody who is pro-life and pro-gun, anti-gun control, in the way that she is. So, this will be a very interesting test, if she survives the fight tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, pick up on that and then bring in the governor’s race, where you have Meg Whitman, the former CEO, founder of eBay.

AMY WALTER: That’s right. Yes, just picking up on Dan’s point, which I think they are all very important, and the question really for Carly Fiorina is whether, one, she can sort of tack back to the center, after moving to the right in the primary, but also whether ideology is going to be as important in an election year where incumbency, the economy are really the touchstones for so many voters.

And, obviously, if you are Barbara Boxer, you’re going to spend a lot of time saying she is out of step with the views of the state, but Barbara Boxer also has another arrow in her quiver, and I think that is the thing that Carly Fiorina likes to talk about a lot, which is her tenure at H.P.

It was very rocky. It was very controversial. And she got a very big buyout package when she left. In a year where we have been talking about bonuses on Wall Street, that may not play so well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meg Whitman.

AMY WALTER: And Meg Whitman, this is a question. We have seen this in politics in California, too. Those folks who have tried to buy campaigns — we have seen millionaires, billionaires come in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: She spent a lot of money.

AMY WALTER: Yes, trying to buy — she spent $80 million thus far. The question is, here we have in some ways, she is the outsider. She is the new person against Jerry Brown, who will be the Democratic nominee, former governor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is assuming she wins.

AMY WALTER: This is assuming she wins, which she is very far ahead right now of Steve Poizner, her opponent.

AMY WALTER: But, in some ways, it started off as an outsider-insider.

Jerry Brown, of course, has been in politics in California forever. The Brown name is synonymous with Democratic politics in the state. But, remember, for many voters in California, especially those under 40, they don’t remember that he was the governor. And they sure have seen a lot of Meg Whitman on TV for the last couple of months. Unclear who the incumbent is at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, I’m going to move us on to Nevada, Republican Senate primary there. Harry Reid, endangered incumbent, the Senate majority leader, and the ground is shifting on this — in this Republican primary.

DAN BALZ: This has been a most interesting race in Nevada. As you say, Senator Reid is quite vulnerable. His poll numbers have been weak all year long. And the Republicans have been itching to take him on and to try to defeat him.

What has happened in the last few weeks is that the candidate that many in the Republican establishment had thought and assumed would be the nominee, Sue Lowden, has stumbled. She’s had some things to say on the campaign trail that have caused her trouble, in particular the idea that one could go back to a system of bartering for health care and, as she put it, trading chickens for health care.

That has allowed Sharron Angle, who is the favored candidate of the Tea Party movement, to surge into the lead. Now, this is still a close race, and there’s a third candidate, Danny Tarkanian, who is the son of the former basketball coach at UNLV.

But, at this point, Sharron Angle appears to have an edge. Many Democrats are delighted at this, because they think, in the long run, she would be a weaker candidate against Senator Reid than would Sue Lowden or perhaps even Danny Tarkanian.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will see if she is a candidate and if she would be weaker.

But, Amy, we have only got a little more than a minute. I can’t leave out South Carolina, where it just gets interestinger and interestinger.

AMY WALTER: So, you know, this race has been fascinating to watch, in part because we have a woman running against essentially the establishment. She has been attacked on charges that she has been involved in extramarital affairs. This looks very Mark Sanford-esque.

She’s been endorsed by Jenny Sanford. Look, she is ahead right now. She’s likely to go into a runoff. The bottom line is, for a state like South Carolina, likely to nominate a woman of Indian heritage, she is the daughter of Indian immigrants, and a woman to the head of the government in South Carolina is a pretty impressive feat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, I have a feeling all of you at The Washington Post are going to be watching that one closely, too.

DAN BALZ: Indeed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK.

We are going to have to leave it there.

Dan Balz, Amy Walter, thank you both.