Florida, N. Hampshire races cap primaries
Voting held in 12 states and D.C. on 'Super Tuesday'
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Janet Reno is internationally recognized and a former U.S. attorney general and one-time guest of Saturday Night Live, but she's now struggling to win the Democratic primary nod to challenge President Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
In New Hampshire, U.S. Sen. Bob Smith will learn whether Republicans have forgiven him for bolting the party and calling the GOP a "fraud."
Mayor Anthony Williams restored Washington's fiscal dignity, but he now faces a humiliating write-in bid for a second term.
And no one's missing the irony in North Carolina, where Bill Clinton's top aide during the Monica Lewinsky saga is favored in a potentially close race for the Democratic nod to succeed the legendary Clinton critic, Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.
All of this happens Tuesday,the so-called "Super Tuesday" of primaries for the 2002 election cycle.
Primaries will take place in 12 states and Washington, D.C. Voters will nominate candidates in 10 gubernatorial races and four Senate races, several of which are among the most closely watched in the country this year.
In Florida, the Democratic race for governor has boiled down to a face-off between Reno and Tampa attorney Bill McBride, a political newcomer who nonetheless has drawn key labor endorsements.
Reno has seen her sizable lead in the Democratic field disappear; she is now locked in a dead heat with McBride, whom polls show would pose a more serious threat to Bush. State senator Daryl Jones trails in polls and fund raising.
Bush, whose own polls show McBride ahead, has taken a page from California's Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and has launched a big TV ad campaign against McBride.
Nonetheless, Bush has significant leads over both Reno and McBride in head-to-head matchups. He sits atop a formidable war chest and can surely call upon his brother for help if needed.
New Hampshire Republicans, scorned by two-term incumbent Smith, are sharply divided over whether to reward him with another nomination or switch horses and back U.S. Rep. John Sununu.
Smith bolted the GOP in 1999 in a futile effort to revive his presidential bid and took to the Senate floor to denounce the Republican Party.
"Republicans' commitment to gun rights and to the rights of the unborn is a fraud and everyone knows it," he told his colleagues during a 50-minute floor speech.
Smith returned to the GOP, but only after Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Chafee died in October 1999 and Smith was in line to take the committee gavel.
Sununu, son and namesake of the former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to the first President Bush, is running a strong race, and polls show he poses a greater threat to the likely Democratic nominee, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who ranks on several Democrats' short list of VP prospects.
Recent polls had showed Smith was cutting into Sununu's lead, but a new poll conducted after a recent debate showed Sununu had opened up a 22-point lead. Insiders expect a closer race, but most still say it's Sununu's to lose.
In New York, Cuomo drops out
Almost a year to the day after the terrorist attacks postponed primaries in New York City, Empire State Democrats will choose a challenger to Republican Gov. George Pataki. Pataki's approval ratings rose considerably after September 11, but not to the sky-high levels of Rudy Giuliani or George W. Bush.
The suspense in that race disappeared last week, however, when Andrew Cuomo, the Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Clinton, dropped out and endorsed state Comptroller Carl McCall, an African-American.
Look for the former president and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, to play heavily in McCall's race this fall.
Following a four-month delay, Tar Heel voters will nominate Senate candidates to replace Helms. Little suspense here, at least until this fall.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Republicans will select former Red Cross president and 2000 presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole, while Democrats are likely to choose Erskine Bowles, who served as Bill Clinton's chief of staff during the Monica Lewinsky saga.
Dole is widely favored over two little-known GOP rivals. Bowles faces North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and state Rep. Dan Blue, a former House speaker who is African American.
Neither Blue nor Marshall has raised enough funds to remain competitive in the closing days of the Democratic race. The North Carolina primary was delayed due to a legal battle over the state's legislative redistricting plan.
Citing the delay, Tar Heel analysts expect relatively few voters to participate in Tuesday's primaries. Indeed, with the Senate contest being held at a time unfamiliar to North Carolina voters, and the news being dominated by talk of war with Iraq and the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, only roughly one-sixth of voters are expected to take part.
That could be the makings for an upset, and Blue, who has worked all summer to develop a strong grassroots get-out-the-vote network, stands to benefit the most.
Although he's a popular incumbent and faces no major opposition, D.C. Mayor Williams may have a suspenseful primary night due to widespread forgeries and other irregularities on his nominating petitions.
With that in mind, the local elections board kept him off the Democratic primary ballot. Still, Williams should prevail with relative ease. A Washington Post poll conducted late last month showed Williams leading Wilson 44 to 10 percent.
Democrats eye Morella's House seat
A fiercely competitive Democratic primary for a House seat is taking place just outside Washington in suburban Maryland, where state Delegate Mark Shriver, a Kennedy nephew, is battling with state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen for the right to challenge vulnerable Rep. Connie Morella, a Republican.
Shriver leads in recent polls, but Van Hollen has shown some recent momentum, drawing endorsements from major newspapers, including the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun. Former Clinton administration aide Ira Shapiro and Deborah Vollmer also are running.
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