POLITICS: PennAve

Voters cast ballots in three critical primaries

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Politics,Republican Party,Mitch McConnell,Georgia,Kentucky,Oregon,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Rebecca Berg,Matt Bevin,Monica Wehby

A six-month span remains before the deciding votes in the 2014 midterm election cycle will be cast, but the election season will be in full swing Tuesday as voters head to the polls in three marquee Republican Senate primary contests.

The outcome of the races, in Kentucky, Georgia and Oregon, promise to have major implications during the general election in November and are being watched closely by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Kentucky

There is little question that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will best his Tea Party challenger, Matt Bevin, in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary Tuesday, but it remains to be seen how commanding McConnell's victory will be and what damage the hard-fought primary contest will have wrought on his political brand.

McConnell's campaign has said, unsurprisingly, that he will emerge not only victorious, but politically stronger for the struggle.

McConnell "is poised to win a historic primary election and enter the general election with significant momentum," senior adviser Josh Holmes wrote in a memo released Monday. "In addition to fully implementing a more sophisticated campaign apparatus at an earlier date than ever before, McConnell has improved his standing amongst the general electorate significantly."

But he will not win the primary fight without significant cost, and his campaign will have spent more than $9 million through the end of April. There is also some question of whether all or most of the Republicans supporting Bevin will transfer their allegiance to McConnell.

Either way, McConnell will face an even tougher fight in the general election when he takes on Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has consistently polled at pace with McConnell and did not have to endure a costly primary of her own.

Georgia

The crowded Georgia Republican Senate primary threatened to keep the National Republican Senatorial Committee awake at night, should one of the weaker candidates have made it to a two-person run-off election after Tuesday's vote.

But the candidates who posed the greatest threat of causing such disarray, Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, do not appear poised to advance to the next stage of the race.

Instead, recent public polling suggests businessman David Perdue, a former CEO of Dollar General, will be the top vote-getter, with either Karen Handel, a former secretary of state, or Rep. Jack Kingston advancing to the run-off as well.

Handel in particular has raked in endorsements from a roster of influential conservatives, including former Sen. Rick Santorum and Erick Erickson, a prominent blogger. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who endorsed Handel earlier in the race and later stumped for her, continued to urge supporters on in an email Monday.

The run-off election will be held July 22, and the winner of that contest will take on Democrat Michelle Nunn in the general election. Nunn, a former CEO of the Points of Light foundation and the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., has been touted as the star recruit of Democrats in this election cycle.

Oregon

Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon, surprised many when she burst onto the national scene with a tearjerker television advertisement last month. By early May, in one of the few public polls in the Oregon Senate primary, Wehby led her Republican opponent, state Rep. Jason Conger, by 21 points, a stunning double-digit margin.

But in the past week, Wehby has grappled with public revelations that threaten to derail her campaign at a critical moment, including a 2007 police report, first detailed by the Oregonian, in which her now ex-husband, Jim Grant, accused Wehby of "ongoing harassment."

Another damaging report, published by Politico, detailed accusations last year of "stalking" by Wehby of her ex-boyfriend Andrew Miller, who is now a major donor to Wehby's Senate campaign.

Wehby has dismissed the incidents, but Conger has attempted to capitalize on them during the final days of the primary contest. The winner Tuesday will take on Sen. Jeff Merkley, the Democratic incumbent.

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