Primary voters head to polls in Midwest
Michigan's Dingell faces strong challenge
DETROIT, Michigan (CNN) -- Michigan Democrats Tuesday choose nominees in two high-profile races that pit political veterans with solid labor backing -- including the nation's longest serving congressman -- against relative newcomers strongly financed by abortion-rights supporters. In the words of one Democrat, "It's boys vs. girls."
Primary elections are also being held in Missouri and Kansas.
In Kansas, three Republicans were locked in a tight race for the gubernatorial nomination and two other GOP candidates were vying to take on Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore, a top Republican target.
Missouri voters will set the stage for a fall Senate showdown between former congressman Jim Talent, a Republican, and Sen. Jean Carnahan, the Democrat who was tapped to fill her late husband's Senate seat after he posthumously beat then-Sen. John Ashcroft in 2000. Carnahan and Talent are both favored to win their respective party nominations. Late polls showed Carnahan with a slight edge to win in November.
Most of the attention was on Michigan where state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, 43, led two longtime pols for the Democratic nod to succeed three-term GOP Gov. John Engler, who is retiring under a new term-limits law passed during his watch. Granholm would be the state's first woman governor and has drawn heavy backing from EMILY's List, a national fundraising network that supports Democratic women who back abortion rights.
Polls show that Granholm's most serious Democratic rival is 13-term Rep. David Bonior, 57, a former House minority whip, who's relying on the organizational strength of unions to boost turnout within his base. Former Gov. James Blanchard, 59, who lost a close race in 1990 to Engler, also is running.
The Democratic nominee will be heavily favored this fall over Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, a staunch conservative who's favored to win the Republican nomination over state Sen. Joe Schwarz, a social moderate who chaired Sen. John McCain's successful primary bid here in the 2000 presidential race. Granola led Posthumus by 22 points in the latest independent poll.
A much closer race has developed between two Democratic House members who offer voters in the newly drawn 15th district starkly different choices. The new district lines resulted in two incumbents slugging it out for their party's nomination.
Congressman John Dingell, 76, who has served 24 terms and is the reigning House dean, has established a reputation on Capitol Hill as a widely feared yet highly effective legislator with aisle-crossing appeal due to his support for some gun rights and restrictions on abortion laws.
Dingell opposed the Brady bill and has backing from the National Rifle Association, which has mailed members urging them to take advantage of Michigan's open primary law and vote for Dingell even if they are Republicans. Dingell also supports some restrictions on late-term abortions. Back home, Dingell embodies a blue-collar, male-dominated and culturally conservative coalition.
"More than a voice, an effective leader," Dingell's latest television ad says.
His rival is Congresswoman Lynn Rivers, 45, who has served four House terms, all of them under Republican control, and has established nothing close to Dingell's legendary reputation. However, Rivers is a vocal advocate for the two powerful groups Dingell has alienated, advocates of gun control, the environment and abortion rights, all of whom play heavily in Democratic primary races.
Rivers relied on a more highly educated constituency within Ann Arbor, which includes the University of Michigan, where primary voters support abortion rights and gun restrictions.
Dingell had the edge on name recognition. There has been a John Dingell serving in Congress from suburban Detroit since 1933. The current model was elected in 1955 in a special election after his father's death.
The House race provides a contrast of styles and, like the gubernatorial race, will test the organizational strength of two political powerhouses -- unions and EMILY's List. Rivers has raised at least $500,000 from the abortion rights group, while Dingell has drawn heavy union backing, especially within the state's auto industry.
To combat Rivers's strength among women, Dingell invited several prominent Democratic women to stump with him -- among them Tipper Gore, who touted Dingell as a "great friend and a great help" to her husband, former Vice President Al Gore, when he first entered the House in 1977.
At that time, Dingell had already served on the Hill for nearly 20 years.
-- From John Mercurio, CNN Political Editor, in Washington
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