Tuesday primaries: Three stories to watch

As the days get shorter the political season is heating up. Today’s primaries will affect some of the most interesting races of the year, from Florida’s high-profile Senate contest to Arizona Sen. John McCain’s bid to survive a challenge from the right.

Here’s what to look for:

3. Will the establishment strike back?

So far this year the success of insurgent candidates has been a big story. “Tea party” favorites Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky both knocked off GOP primary opponents who were preferred and pushed by state Republican insiders. In Colorado, conservative GOP District Attorney Ken Buck did the same thing, beating former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton.

Then there’s perhaps the biggest tree to fall in the forest this year, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who in the end could not save himself by jumping parties to the Democrats. His career was sawed off by Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in May.

Today is the day the Empire – oops, the establishment – might get a measure of revenge.

If polls are any guide, Senator McCain may survive the insurgent candidacy of former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. Early on, McCain’s relative moderation on illegal immigration looked like it might doom him in a state where that has become a huge issue, but the former GOP presidential candidate has himself tacked right and remains the favorite.

In Florida, Rep. Kendrick Meek, the choice of state Democratic party leaders for the Senate, is now leading controversial billionaire investor Jeff Greene.

2. Will self-funders win?

The aforementioned Mr. Greene of Florida has been one of the most interesting, if not, um, baroque, stories of the current election cycle. A rich guy who made his cash by investing in credit default swaps linked to subprime mortgages (remember them?), he’s put more than $23 million of his own money into his Senate campaign.

He’s definitely running as the outsider in his race against Mr. Meek – his mailings often complain about “career politicians,” for instance. But he’s also not what you’d call a vanilla persona – he is good friends with ex-boxing champ Mike Tyson and owns a yacht so big that, as the Monitor’s Linda Feldmann has written, it “appears to have a life of its own.”

Elsewhere on the Florida ticket, another wealthy first-time candidate, former health-care industry executive Rick Scott, is running in the Republican gubernatorial candidate. He’s also got business-related baggage. His firm, Columbia/HCA, settled a Medicare fraud suit for $1.7 billion in the 2000s, though Mr. Scott was ousted before the settlement occurred.

Scott surged ahead of his main opponent, state Attorney General Bill McCollum, in the spring, but the latest polls show that he has faded and now trails by six to seven percentage points.

Mr. McCollum represented Florida in Congress for 20 years, so he is something of a comfortable old shoe of politics. If he does beat Scott – and Meek beats Greene – it could be seen as a blow to self-funded candidates across the nation.

Generally speaking, though, candidates who pay for much of their campaign from their own pockets often don’t do well. Over the past nine years, only about 11 percent of self-financed candidates won their races, according to a recent study from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

1. Will the son (and daughter) also rise?

Two kids of famous politicians are on the ballot Tuesday. One is favored to win. One may have to wait longer to get his political career off the ground.

The one who is ahead in the polls is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska. Her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her to his own unexpired Senate seat after he won the governorship in 2002.

This bit of nepotism caused a furor in the state and eventually led to a referendum that stripped the governor of the power to appoint interim senators. But Senator Murkowski appears to have survived that shaky start and now looks likely to defeat Fairbanks lawyer Joe Miller in the GOP primary.

Mr. Miller has been endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has recorded robo-calls for him that are currently turning out the vote. Miller has also hit Murkowski as a RINO – Republican-In-Name-Only. (See No. 3, “Will the Establishment Strike Back.”)

Then there’s Ben Quayle. The son of former Vice President Dan Quayle is running for a congressional seat in Arizona. Name recognition made him an early favorite in a crowded race, but since then things haven’t gone well.

He’s been hurt by revelations that he contributed to a racy website devoted to Phoenix nightlife – particularly because at first he denied the charge. Since then, he’s run an over-the-top ad in which he promises to “knock hell” into Washington.

In another ad, he posed with his wife and two young girls, and said “we are going to raise our family here.” But the young lawyer as yet has no children – the girls were nieces.

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