7 State Primaries Could Be Setting Tone for November
Voters in seven states picked candidates Tuesday in primary races that could set the tone for November, with Alabama Gov. Forrest “Fob” James Jr. testing the power of social conservatives.
The busiest election night so far this year served up primaries that could prove critical to who controls the House next year; Republican and Democratic leaders alike were rooting for their most moderate candidates.
In Alabama, James was in a five-way Republican race as he sought the nomination for another term, and he needed to get a majority of the vote to avoid a troubling runoff. The darling of social conservatives, James has threatened to have the National Guard defend a courtroom display of the Ten Commandments, fought a judge’s order that stopped school-led religious activities and said the Bill of Rights did not apply to his state.
His consultant is Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition. A poor showing by James would raise questions about the potency of social conservatives, who have rallied to his cause.
James’ main opponent, businessman Winton Blount, argued that the governor has hurt the state’s image. And former Gov. Guy Hunt threatened to take away Christian conservative votes from James. Republicans worried that no matter who won, their hold on the seat has been weakened by a bloody primary.
With 11% of the ballots counted, James was drawing 54% of the votes, Blount had 33% and Hunt 10%.
The GOP’s ideological divide also was an issue in New Jersey, where 18-year House incumbent Marge Roukema was defending her conservative credentials. Underdog opponent Scott Garrett opposes abortion and supports the rights of gun owners; Roukema has received money and support from groups favoring abortion rights and gun control.
The Democrats’ internal battles were given voice in the Mississippi Delta district served by retiring Republican Rep. Mike Parker. Many party leaders hoped moderate Ronnie Shows could avoid a runoff with either of two more liberal opponents, Joyce Arceneaux and Carroll Rhodes.
Democrats considering a presidential race in 2000 were watching the primary in Iowa, where Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick declared, “I am a centrist,” and state Sen. Tom Vilsack hewed to the more traditionally liberal Democratic line in their gubernatorial primary.
The race was a sign of whether liberals were losing sway among Democrats in the key presidential state.
Republican Jim Lightfoot was favored to win the nomination and would be the general election front-runner. Republican Gov. Terry E. Branstad is leaving office after 16 years.
In New Mexico, Democrats fought for the nomination to face Republican Gov. Gary Johnson in November. Former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, who led in preelection polls, was a favorite of party leaders because of his centrist reputation.
That state’s Democratic leaders wanted Atty. Gen. Tom Udall, son of former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, to face freshman Republican Rep. Bill Redmond in the fall. But he faced tough primary opponents in the Santa Fe-based district.
Primaries also were held in South Dakota, where Republicans chose an opponent to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and in Montana.