WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is not on the ballot in
this week's primaries, nor is Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the
Republican Senate leader.
But both have a stake in intensely competitive Senate races in
three states, contests testing the strength of the tea party among
Kentucky Republicans and the durability of incumbent Democratic
Sens. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas and Arlen Specter in
In a fourth race of national significance, Republican Tim Burns
and Democrat Mark Critz battled to fill out the term of the late
Democratic Rep. John Murtha in a congressional district in
southwestern Pennsylvania. Both political parties reported spending
roughly $1 million to sway the race, turning it into a laboratory
for the fall campaign, when all 435 House seats will be on the
Oregon voters also faced a deadline for returning ballots in a
statewide mail-in vote that began more than two weeks ago.
On the eve of the busiest primary night of the year so far,
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama was
following the races, but "not that closely."
"We have supported incumbent Democratic senators and we've done
a lot on behalf of each campaign," he added, referring to Lincoln
Gibbs said Obama's involvement had not become an issue in the
Nor was it clear what impact his involvement would mean for the
incumbents, under extraordinary political pressure in a year of
well-documented voter dissatisfaction with Washington.
McConnell made no attempt to minimize his own interest in the
Senate primary in Kentucky after making a late television
commercial on behalf of Secretary of State Trey Grayson, battling
tea party-backed Rand Paul.
A spokesman, Don Stewart, said McConnell was watching the race
in his home state closely, and added he doubted White House claims
that Obama wasn't equally interested. "That sure would be a
surprise given that he has two incumbents in close races," he
While Grayson had support from the state's Republican
establishment, Paul countered with backing from former Alaska Gov.
Sarah Palin, retiring Sen. Jim Bunning and conservative Sen. Jim
DeMint of South Carolina. DeMint has interceded in several
primaries in hopes of pushing his party to the right, a decision
that some Republicans say may portend a move for greater influence
inside the Republican leadership led by McConnell.
Among Democrats, Kentucky Attorney Gen. Jack Conway collided
with Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo for the right to take on the
Republican winner. Mongiardo lost a close race to Bunning six years
Specter, 80 and a party-switcher, struggled for political
survival in a primary with Rep. Joe Sestak, who gained late
momentum with a television ad. It showed his rival saying only a
year ago that he quit the Republican Party to win a new term.
Former Rep. Pat Toomey campaigned as the prohibitive
front-runner for the Republican nomination, six years after losing
to Specter in a GOP primary.
In Arkansas, Lincoln sought renomination against Lt. Gov. Bill
Halter. She emphasized her independence from party. Halter had the
support of several unions that spent heavily in hopes of punishing
the incumbent for votes on health care, trade and legislation to
make it easier to organize workers.
The presence of a third contender on the ballot, D.C. Morrison,
raised the possibility that Lincoln might be forced into a
politically debilitating runoff on June 8.
Rep. John Boozman was the acknowledged Republican front-runner
for the Senate nomination for a seat the GOP hopes to win in the
Oregon's mail-in primary produced little if any of the drama
that was on display elsewhere.
Sen. Ron Wyden sought the Democratic nomination to a third full
term. Seven Republicans vied for the right to oppose him in the
Former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber campaigned for his party's
nomination for a return to office, and nine Republicans competed
for the nomination to run against him.
In Pennsylvania's gubernatorial primary, four Democrats and two
Republicans vied to advance to the fall election. Gov. Ed Rendell,
a two-term Democrat, was barred from seeking re-election.