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Tuesday’s primary headliners: Mississippi and Iowa

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij and Rachel Wellford  June 3, 2014 at 9:15 AM EST
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., greets a young supporter upon arriving at City Hall in Olive Branch, Miss., May 30. Cochran is facing a re-election challenge from tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., greets a young supporter upon arriving at City Hall in Olive Branch, Miss., May 30. Cochran is facing a re-election challenge from tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Primary day in Mississippi and Iowa
  • Chris McDaniel: The tea party’s last, best hope?
  • Can Ernst get to 35 percent?
  • Another incumbent in trouble in California
  • Obama defends prisoner swap

Mississippi, Iowa headline Tuesday’s primary contests: Voters in eight states head to the polls Tuesday, with the marquee races being a pair of Senate Republican primary battles in Mississippi and Iowa that could have consequences for control of the Senate. In Mississippi, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran faces a challenge from tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Polls have shown the race essentially tied with one showing McDaniel up two points and another showing Cochran up five. Establishment Republicans in Mississippi and around the country are backing Cochran, while McDaniel has the support of at least 10 state tea party groups and national organizations such as the Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks. McDaniel not only represents perhaps the last best chance for tea party forces to knock off an establishment candidate this primary season, but also a potential major problem for national Republicans. If McDaniel wins, establishment Republicans worry that the party’s candidates around the country will be pressed to respond to past controversial statements from the state lawmaker, who doubles as a radio talk show host. It could also give the expected Democratic nominee, former Rep. Travis Childers, a chance of putting the seat in play this fall.

Mississippi Moolah – Outside groups level playing field for McDaniel: The Sunlight Foundation broke down the fundraising stats in the Mississippi Senate contest and found that outside spending not only helped McDaniel keep pace with Cochran, it gave him a slight advantage. Outside groups spent a total of $5.2 million either in support of McDaniel or against Cochran, while about $2.8 million in outside money was doled out in Cochran’s favor or opposing McDaniel. That margin made up for the $3 million to $1 million spending advantage that the Cochran campaign had over McDaniel’s team.

Can Ernst clear 35 percent?: In Iowa, meanwhile, state Sen. Joni Ernst is the frontrunner for the GOP nod, looking to win at least 35 percent of the vote in order to avoid sending the nominating decision to a state convention. The Des Moines Register Iowa poll released Sunday had her just barely clearing that threshold with 36 percent support. That was double her next closest competitor, former Reliant Energy chief executive Mark Jacobs. Still, 16 percent of likely Iowa GOP primary voters said they were undecided, and most expect Ernst will get a good share of that and push her over the threshold. If she doesn’t, though, it would be only the second Senate primary in Iowa history where the nominee would be picked by activists at a state convention, according to the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog. Ernst has surged in the polls thanks to a pair of catchy television ads and the ability to bring together the party’s establishment and more conservative wings, receiving endorsements from Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, the Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Given Ernst’s appeal across the GOP, she could still emerge from a nominating convention — but Washington Republicans will sleep a little easier Tuesday if she manages to win the race outright.

California – Another incumbent in trouble: In Texas a week ago, the first incumbent of the election cycle lost — Ralph Hall, who at 91 is the oldest member of Congress ever. Tuesday highlights another senior representative, California’s Mike Honda, 72, who is also in jeopardy this fall. He’s facing a serious challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, 37, a former Obama administration official and well-funded Silicon Valley darling. This district was redrawn in 2010, making it the only majority-Asian district outside Hawaii. The process actually redistricted Honda’s San Jose home out of the district he has represented since 2001. Because of the top-two, or “jungle” primary, Honda is likely not going to lose TODAY. He looks like, in fact, he has a lead. But pro-Honda Democrats — and unions who support him — worry that Khanna, who has outraised Honda and has more cash on hand, could unseat Honda in a head-to-head. In fact, unions are so worried about that prospect, they are trying to boost the Republican in the race to try and nudge him into the general election showdown rather than Khanna.

Midterm malaise, Voter ID in Miss., and Common Core as the new amnesty: Despite the implementation of the top-two primary, meant to boost turnout, California could see its lowest turnout ever, continuing a trend from a high point in the 1970s. The jungle primary has seen a modest increase of turnout among independents, but low turnout is a trend, especially in midterms. (Here’s PBS affiliate KQED’s look at the top-two system.) This midterm election, though, has been victim of particularly acute voter malaise. Gallup found voters feeling the least enthusiastic about a midterm in 20 years. … Mississippi, a state with a history of voter suppression, will be using its new voter ID law for the first time. All voters must show a photo ID for the first time since the the state passed a constitutional amendment endorsing the practice in 2011. Because of the Voting Rights Act, Mississippi used to have to clear any election law changes with the Justice Department. But not anymore. The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling dismantled that requirement. … How salient has Common Core become with the conservative base? In Alabama, it’s the new “amnesty”.

Obama defends Bergdahl prisoner swap: It’s already been a busy day in Poland for President Obama on the first day of a three-country, four-day trip through Europe. The news so far is that he defended his five-for-one swap of Taliban leaders held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay for captured American soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Conservatives have been critical of the swap as having negotiated with terrorists and questions have been raised surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance. Despite all that, the president said the United States has a “pretty sacred rule and that is we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind and that dates back to the earliest days.” There have also been constitutional questions raised about whether the president consulted with Congress on the release of prisoners from Gitmo, as is required by law. “We’ve consulted with Congress for some time,” Mr. Obama said. The president is also asking for $1 billion from Congress for a “European Reassurance Initiative.” It would include increased military exercises with NATO and missile-defense systems in Turkey, Romania and Poland. And in a direct response to “Russian military intervention in Ukraine,” it calls for increased NATO activities and support for Ukraine and suspending NATO-Russia Council activities. Remember, the U.S. is also waiting for NATO’s commitment level of troops in Afghanistan post-2014. That’s supposed to be decided this month. Also, watch the president’s remarks at 9:25 a.m. ET. White House officials had been pointing to a big speech in Poland as part of Mr. Obama’s recasting of his overall foreign policy.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1800, John Adams moved to Washington, DC. Where did he first take up residence, since the White House was not yet complete? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Mason James (@MasonJames10) for guessing Friday’s trivia: Which presidents have been divorced? The answer was: Only one, Reagan.

LINE ITEMS

  • President Obama will meet with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and other leaders of Central and East European countries at 9:10 a.m. ET in Warsaw, Poland. The president will deliver remarks following the meeting. And at 1:30 p.m. ET, President Obama will attend a “Solidarity Dinner” hosted by the Polish government at the Royal Palace in Warsaw.

  • In Florida, the tea party is not happy with Rick Scott’s budget, which is $9 billion more than when he took office in 2011. “Charlie Crist was more of a fiscal conservative than what Rick Scott has turned out to be,” Henry Kelley of the Tea Party Network in Fort Walton Beach told the Tampa Bay Times.

  • Americans approve of the formulation of the new Benghazi investigation panel by a 51 percent to 42 percent margin, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll. The partisan split: 72 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of independents, and just 31 percent of Democrats approve. It’s also a potential blemish for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who gets just a 37 percent to 50 percent approval on her handling of the situation.

  • In the case of a scorned wife taking revenge on her husband’s mistress by using toxic chemicals, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the incident did not fall under the chemical weapons treaty.

  • The pro-Democrat Senate Majority PAC released a new television ad Monday hitting North Carolina state House speaker and GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis for supporting cuts to education funding and freezing teacher pay.

  • American Crossroads is out with a new Mark Pryor attack ad, in which a spelling bee contestant answers “O-B-A-M-A” when asked to spell Pryor, to which the judges reply “close enough.”

  • Despite public opposition to big money in campaigns, nine Democratic senators have contributed a total of $1.4 million to the Senate Majority PAC over the last two election cycles.

  • President Obama has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be in charge of the relief effort for unaccompanied children who cross the U.S. border illegally.

  • The Seattle City Council approved a $15 an hour minimum wage late Monday.

  • While Sen. Rand Paul blasted President Obama’s new plan to cut carbon emissions, Yahoo News’ Chris Moody notes the Kentucky Republican previously took a much less favorable view of coal as an energy source.

  • Speaking of Paul, Steve Forbes goes anti-Fed and pro-gold standard in his new book: “The best way to achieve monetary stability: linking the dollar to gold.”

  • The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake outlines the states that have odd ways of choosing party nominees.

  • A Republican in Arizona changed his party to Democrat and his name to Cesar Chavez in hopes of winning a heavily Hispanic congressional seat he lost previously.

  • Longtime Democratic political strategist Mame Reiley died Monday after a four-year battle with cancer.

  • 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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