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3 things to watch in Tuesday's races

By Kristi Keck, CNN
Voters in Nebraska, West Virginia and Georgia go to the polls Tuesday.
Voters in Nebraska, West Virginia and Georgia go to the polls Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nebraska, West Virginia hold primaries; Georgia has special election
  • Nebraska's races show signs of a Republican resurgence
  • West Virginia contests demonstrate anti-incumbency attitude
  • Georgians voting to fill Republican Nathan Deal's seat ... temporarily
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(CNN) -- Most people following the primaries are a lot more excited about the races coming up next week than those taking place on Tuesday.

Will Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln lose in Arkansas? Can Sen. Arlen Specter survive his first Democratic primary? Will newcomer Rand Paul upset the establishment and win Kentucky's Republican Senate race? Will the anti-incumbent fervor take hold of voters and wipe out Congress as we know it?

Those questions can wait.

Before you get too overwhelmed with anticipation, take a minute to check out the contests taking place this week.

Here are three things to watch in Tuesday's contests in Nebraska, West Virginia and Georgia.

Nebraska's Republican resurgence

Nebraska has three representatives, all of whom are Republicans and are considered safe in the primary and general election. That might not sound like the makings of an exciting contest, but it's interesting because it shows how the tide has turned in the Cornhusker state.

In the 2008 election, then-Sen. Barack Obama came out on top in the state's 2nd District, which includes Omaha. Since Nebraska splits its electoral votes, Obama received one vote from the contest. After the election, Lee Terry, the Republican who represents the district, was considered a possible target for Democrats this year, said Michael Wagner, assistant professor in the political science department at the University of Nebraska.

"The enthusiasm the Democrats had after the 2008 elections is rapidly fading in Nebraska," he said.

Obama had a good showing in the 1st District, giving Democrats hope at the time that voters there might elect a Democratic representative. "That dream is completely gone and the dream to dethrone Terry for Democrats is on life support," Wagner said.

Nebraska is also home to conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, who faces re-election in 2012. Nelson has faced backlash for his vote for the Senate's health care bill.

Outside the state, Nelson became known for the "Cornhusker Kickback," in which he agreed to vote for the bill in return for $100 million in Medicaid assistance from the federal government. That was later stripped from the bill.

"Republicans are hoping to keep that anger alive for the next two years," Wagner said. "They feel like they are laying the groundwork to unseat the Democrats' 500-pound gorilla in two years."

Anti-incumbent waves hit West Virginia

In West Virginia, one Republican and two Democratic representatives are competing for their party nomination.

The picture in West Virginia is much like districts throughout the country, where "Washington experience" it not something candidates want on their resume.

The most competitive race is in the 1st District, where Democrat Alan Mollohan is fighting to get through the primary before he can turn his attention to the general election. The 14-term congressman faces a tough challenge Tuesday from state Sen. Mike Oliverio.

"There's definitely an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington attitude on the part of voters. How that plays out is not at all clear at this point," said Neil Berch, an associate professor at West Virginia University's political science department.

The incumbent candidates are stuck trying to distance themselves from Washington while pointing out that it brought a lot of money to their districts.

Wanted: Someone who likes to campaign

Voters in Georgia's 9th Congressional District will have their say in the special election to replace Nathan Deal, a Republican who resigned earlier this year to focus on his gubernatorial run. Deal originally planned to step down in early March but stayed through the health care vote later that month at the urging of Republican leaders.

This contest is worth watching just because it's odd. Former State Sen. Lee Hawkins, one of the candidates in the race, said, "It's been sort of like running about six or nine races all at one time," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

That's because the candidates are vying to fill out the remainder of Deal's term. Whoever wins will have to compete again two months later in the state's July 20 primary, which will determine who is on the ballot in November.

 
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