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Tuesday primaries to answer key questions

BY Terence Burlij, Domenico Montanaro, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  May 20, 2014 at 9:11 AM EST
Candidate for U.S. Senate Karen Handel waves to the crowd as she is introduced at the annual Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on April 17. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Candidate for U.S. Senate Karen Handel waves to the crowd as she is introduced at the annual Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher’s pond house in Glennville, Ga., on April 17. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Primary day in Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon and Pennsylvania
  • Republicans keeping an eye on top two finishers in Georgia
  • McConnell in need of a big win against Bevin
  • Can Wehby survive “harassment” reports?
  • Do establishment Republicans in the House hold on?
  • Tom Wolf and the benefits of spending early

Super Tuesday is here: Voters in six states head to the polls Tuesday. This primary day features a lot of the themes that could illuminate something about this fall’s general election — most importantly, who controls the Senate. With that, and many other questions in mind, here are some that will be answered Tuesday:

Which two candidates advance to the Senate GOP runoff in Georgia?: This is perhaps the biggest question of the night as the outcome could have far-reaching consequences for the battle this fall over which party will control the Senate next year. The Republican establishment would prefer to see one of three candidates ultimately emerge from the field of five contenders: businessman David Perdue, Rep. Jack Kingston or former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel. The other two candidates running are Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, who some Republicans see as weaker opponents against philanthropist Michelle Nunn, who is expected to easily defeat three lesser-known candidates on the Democratic side. No candidate in the GOP primary is likely to clear 50 percent on Tuesday, so the top two finishers will advance to a runoff, which means they will spend the next two months debating who the true conservative is in the race and draining resources that could be useful come September and October, when voters really start to pay attention. Kingston and Handel recently attacked Perdue, who is leading in the polls, for wanting to increase taxes. The longer the GOP fracas drags out, the better the prospects for Nunn, a top recruit who has Democrats thinking they can win the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

What is McConnell’s margin against Bevin?: Despite some impressive spin by the Bevin campaign, the outcome in Kentucky’s Senate GOP primary is likely not in doubt. But if Sen. Mitch McConnell wins in anything less than a blowout, given how big his leads have been coming into this week, it will likely raise questions about the Senate Minority Leader’s ability to close and to coalesce conservative support heading into the general election. And that is the key question to whether Republicans hold this seat — do conservatives come home? If they do, McConnell probably beats Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by a few points. If they don’t, he could be in trouble. McConnell has already spent more than $12 million to keep GOP defections to a minimum, and early on, he brought on board former Rand Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton to run his operation and reach out to tea party supporters. Kentucky is one of the Democratic Party’s top targets, and polls show Grimes running in a dead heat with McConnell, who is unpopular because of his tenure in Washington.

How much do the “harassment” reports affect Wehby?: Beyond Georgia and Kentucky, establishment Republicans are also hoping to score a primary victory in Oregon, where Monica Wehby, a surgeon who favors abortion rights, is running against tea party-backed state Rep. Jason Conger for the GOP Senate nomination. If Wehby becomes the party’s nominee, Republicans believe she could put the seat in play against Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley if there is a GOP wave in November. But first Wehby has to win Tuesday’s primary, which has become more of a challenge in light of reports in recent days that she was accused of “stalking” and “harassment” by an ex-boyfriend last year, and 2007 claims of “ongoing harassment” by her former husband. Wehby released a statement Monday saying she was “deeply saddened” by the disclosure of the police reports and dismissed them as political attacks that bear “no relevance” to her campaign. Curiously, her ex-boyfriend, a timber executive, is actually funding ads against her opponent and says he regrets filing the police report. It makes you wonder who exactly is dumping this oppo. Nearly a quarter of Republicans had already cast a ballot in this all-mail voting state, as of Sunday, which begs the question — are these harassment stories about the GOP primary or really about bruising her for the general election? Given the blue tilt of the state (President Barack Obama won it by 12 points in 2012), even if Wehby can get past the nomination battle and the string of unflattering news reports, she will still face an uphill climb in November.

How do establishment House Republicans fare?: There are also a pair of House primaries Tuesday where the establishment vs. tea party dynamic is at play. In Idaho, Rep. Mike Simpson appears to be in decent shape against challenger Bryan Smith, who received the endorsement of the Club for Growth. But the anti-tax group stopped spending on Smith’s behalf late in the race. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Rep. Bill Shuster faces a tea party challenge from Art Halvorson, a local businessman and retired Coast Guard official. The Washington Post’s Paul Kane previewed the race Monday, writing that Halvorson has attacked Shuster for being “one of John Boehner’s lieutenants” and cited “Shuster fatigue” as a reason to oust the incumbent. Like in other places this cycle, though, if Simpson and Shuster pull it out, it’s because they took these threats seriously. They saw them coming and campaigned hard, not just on their own behalf, but tried to take down their opponents.

Does it pay to spend early? (And can you run on Washington experience?): Most of this election season has been about those Republican primaries, especially the tea party vs. establishment storyline. But there’s a standout primary on the Democratic side Tuesday in Pennsylvania. Tom Wolf, the owner of a kitchen cabinet supplier who served in Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, is the front-runner to take on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. With approval ratings in the 30s, Corbett is among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents swept into office during the tea party wave of 2010. But how did Wolf seemingly come out of nowhere to get here? He’s spent $10 million of his own money on the race, including on quirky television ads to boost his profile. And they are positive ads that have everything — family testimonials, manufacturing, employees who seem to like him, and an old Jeep. Really, they’re a lesson in how to run defining biographical ads that seem natural. A Wolf victory on Tuesday could demonstrate the power of going up early (and often) with positive ads — as it allowed him to build a lead in the polls over Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who many thought early on would be the likely Democratic nominee. The Post on Monday looked at Schwartz’s struggles, noting that she based her campaign on her legislative experience. But running on Washington experience in this climate? Good luck with that.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1995, President Clinton announced that the two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House would be permanently closed to motor vehicles as a security measure. What event one month prior prompted the heightened security at the White House?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Lee Miringoff (‏@LeeMiringoff) and Rachael ‏(@CreativeArtistB) for correctly guessing Monday’s trivia. The answer was: Madison Square Garden.

LINE ITEMS

  • The National Republican Congressional Committee has developed a plan that they believe will get the GOP to 245 seats for the next term.
  • The economic upturn is not benefiting key constituencies for Democrats: blacks and young women, making it even more difficult to achieve strong voter turnout in November.
  • A federal judge struck down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage Monday.
  • National Journal’s George Condon talks with Democrats, who voiced concerns about what they see as a lack of a midterm election strategy coming from the White House.
  • The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson notes that Republicans are outspending Democrats on Senate races so far.
  • Another Democrat, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said Monday he opposes the confirmation of Michael Boggs to become a federal judge. Boggs, who has served as a state judge in Georgia for the past decade, has faced scrutiny for votes he took as a member of the Georgia legislature between 2001 and 2004 in support of keeping the Confederate insignia on the state flag, establishing a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and creating a public registry of abortion doctors.
  • Organizing for Action, Mr. Obama’s advocacy organization, will no longer solicit high-dollar contributions and will be cutting in half its staff now that open enrollment in health care exchanges is closed. The group had been criticized for diverting Democratic-friendly resources during an election year.
  • The man who sent ricin-laced letter to President Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has been sentenced to 25 years in jail.
  • With legislation stalled at the federal level, state and local leaders and lawmakers are now taking on immigration reform, some refusing to comply with federal deportation requirements.
  • A federal judge is expected to rule Tuesday on whether to dismiss federal corruption charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife.
  • The Washington Post’s Philip Bump writes that although the vicious GOP runoff for lieutenant governor seemingly provides a “dream scenario for Democrats,” it’s likely not enough to give Democrat State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte an opening.
  • With Assemblyman Tim Donnelly on top of California’s GOP ticket for governor, the party worries that the arch-conservative will have a negative impact on other Republicans running in congressional and state legislative districts.
  • The Wolfeboro, N.H., police commissioner, who was publicly heard calling Mr. Obama the “N” word, resigned Monday, after many, including Mitt Romney, who owns a summer home in the town, called on him to step down.
  • Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said Monday he might consider a run for president in 2016.
  • Minnesota is on track to become the 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana. New York takes up a similar measure Tuesday.
  • With Hillary Clinton’s “midcareer memoir” due out on June 10, the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich surveys the visions that “quixotic public servants have eagerly inflicted…on the reading public.”
  • Meanwhile, Gerald Seib writes in the Wall Street Journal that Americans underestimate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — not because he’ll win the GOP nomination in 2016 — but because his new book, “Blue Collar Conservatives,” shows he grasps demographic realities the rest of the party doesn’t.
  • A Connecticut teen wrote Vice President Joe Biden a letter inviting him to the prom, calling him “the most delightful man in America.” While Biden turned down the request, citing his schedule, the vice president did send Talia Maselli a wrist corsage and handwritten note inviting her to visit the White House.
  • Put another dime in the jukebox, baby… South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley got to meet her idol, rocker Joan Jett.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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