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GOP, Democrats tout primary victories

From John Mercurio
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The so-called "Junior Tuesday" primaries, the second busiest primary day in 2002, were good news for Senate Republicans and House Democrats, with both groups touting strong winners in races considered key to each minority party's fight to take control of their respective chambers.

Voters Tuesday also set the stage for hot gubernatorial races in South Dakota and Alabama, where Rep. Bob Riley, a Republican, trounced primary rivals on his way to becoming Republicans' greatest hope of ousting an incumbent Democratic governor this year. A nonpartisan poll conducted in late May showed Riley leading Gov. Don Siegelman by 8 points.

Only one incumbent failed to win renomination outright; Alabama Democrats sent five-term Rep. Earl Hilliard into a June 25 runoff with attorney Artur Davis in the majority-black 7th Congressional District based in Birmingham.

Davis, a former federal prosecutor, ran an aggressive, well-funded campaign that criticized Hilliard's ethics and his positions on the Middle East, citing a bill he wrote to lift most U.S. economic sanctions, including those against countries that support terrorism. Hilliard had also been widely criticized for a 1997 visit to Libya. Hilliard led Davis in Tuesday's vote, 45 to 44 percent.

This primary day was second only to "Super Tuesday" in terms of the number of races on the ballot. Primary races were decided in South Dakota, Alabama, New Mexico, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana and New Jersey.

Republicans, who need to pick up one Senate seat to regain control of the chamber they lost when Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont bolted the GOP last year, heralded primary results in New Jersey, Montana, South Dakota and Iowa, where they believe voters chose strong candidates to challenge vulnerable Democrats.

The White House and Senate Republicans had made clear their preference for candidates in South Dakota and Iowa, helping to quell primary races in those states.

In New Jersey, Doug Forrester, a wealthy businessman, spent $3.1 million of his own money to defeat fellow Republicans Diane Allen and John Matheussen -- both state senators -- in the race to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Torricelli , who faced charges of ethical violations during his first six-year term.

Forrester made clear his plans to target Torricelli's ethics, vowing during a victory speech Tuesday evening, reported by The New York Times, "I will not dishonor you."

"I don't have Bob Torricelli's experience," said Forrester, whose only political experience took place 20 years ago, when he served as mayor of West Windsor. "I haven't had my office raided by the F.B.I. I don't have the Senate ethics committee plowing through a file from the U.S. attorney's office."

Nonetheless, Torricelli remains a formidable opponent and a prodigious fund-raiser. His fund-raiser last Friday featured former President Clinton, and he raised roughly $3 million that evening. An independent poll conducted in May showed the senator leading Forrester by 20 points. Only one Republican candidate, the moderate Allen, held Torricelli under 50 percent.

In Montana, state Sen. Mike Taylor, a Republican, crushed three underfunded opponents in his bid to challenge Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat. Taylor, a wealthy businessman and rancher who had poured more than $500,000 of his own money into the race, has attacked Baucus as out-of-touch with Montana, highlighting donations the Senate Finance Committee chairman has received from Hollywood, New York City and Washington D.C.

"Tonight we brought our hiking boots," Taylor said Tuesday evening, according to The Billings Gazette. "Tomorrow and every day for the next five months, we need to climb this mountain. It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be quick, but we can get to the summit."

Taylor led with 60 percent of the primary vote, followed by Brad Johnson with 18 percent, former state Sen. Jack McDonald with 13 percent and Melvin "Skip" Hanson with 9 percent.

In one of the GOP's greatest hopes to unseat a Senate Democrat, Rep. John Thune , R-S.D., was unopposed in his bid for the nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. The race has already turned into a proxy battle between President Bush, who carried the state by 22 points in 2000, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat.

In the Republican Senate primary in Iowa, four-term Rep. Greg Ganske, a GOP party maverick on key issues like campaign-finance reform and health-care reform, beat political novice Bill Salier.

Salier is an anti-abortion activist who had questioned Ganske's party loyalties. Ganske's performance was underwhelming; he led Salier, 59 to 41 percent. He faces Democratic incumbent Sen. Tom Harkin in the fall.

The Iowa primaries provided plenty of pick-up opportunities for House Democrats, who yesterday touted their nominees in three of the state's four GOP-held districts.

Longtime Bettendorf Mayor Ann Hutchinson, who enjoyed strong backing from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, beat former Rep. David Nagle in the Democratic primary, earning a general election berth against six-term Rep. Jim Nussle, a Republican, in the 1st Congressional District.

In the 2nd Congressional District, the most Democratic-leaning district in Iowa, physician Julie Thomas, a Democrat, will face Rep. Jim Leach, a moderate Republican with a history of close races. Democrats also touted the primary victory of John Norris, a former chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack. Norris will face Rep. Tom Latham, a Republican, in the 4th Congressional District.

Democrats also heralded results in the New Mexico race to succeed retiring Rep. Joe Skeen, a Republican.

Voters in the state's southern 2nd Congressional District nominated Democratic state Sen. John Arthur Smith, a conservative gun-rights activist who party strategists said fits the district better than his vanquished primary rival, longtime Las Cruces Mayor Ruben Smith. Republicans nominated state Rep. Steve Pearce over restaurateur Ed Tinsley, who had Skeen's support, and wealthy businessman Phelps Anderson.

House Democrats said the GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Marge Roukema, R-New Jersey, also offered them an opportunity. Republicans nominated state Assemblyman Scott Garrett, a conservative who twice posed strong threats to Roukema's re-election bids. Roukema, a political centrist, this year endorsed one of Garrett's two primary opponents, state Sen. Gerald Cardinale. Garrett faces Democrat Ann Sumers, a former Republican and longtime Roukema ally, this fall.

Just last week, Roukema herself was quoted saying, "'if the wrong [Republican] candidate wins the primary, a Democrat can win this district."

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule that Senate Republicans and House Democrats carried the day.

In South Dakota, for example, Gov. Bill Janklow -- who is term-limited in his current post -- defeated ex-Sen. Larry Pressler in the GOP race to replace Thune in the House, giving Republicans their best chance to hold the seat. Attorney Stephanie Herseth defeated Rick Weiland for the Democratic nod, but is a longshot to defeat the popular Janklow this fall.




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