Primary elections underway in Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Vermont

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist greets supporters outside the North Miami Public Library in Miami, Florida August 24, 2014. REUTERS

MIAMI -- Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will soon find out how much momentum he has for a political comeback, as Democratic primary voters decide whether to nominate the former Republican for a chance to reclaim his old job.

Florida is one of four states where voters will cast primary and runoff ballots Tuesday.

With a huge advantage in fundraising and name recognition, Crist is the odds-on favorite over former state Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich. The question is whether his victory margin will match those advantages or instead suggest that he's struggling to connect with core Democrats.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is expected to coast to his party's nomination for a second term.

In Arizona, several Republicans are vying to succeed GOP Gov. Jan Brewer.

Republicans in Vermont will decide among four candidates who want to take on Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who also serves as chairman of his party's national governors association. Other statewide offices, including an at-large House seat, also are on the ballot.

Oklahoma Democrats will choose their Senate nominee in a runoff, with state Sen. Connie Johnson expected to top perennial candidate Jim Rogers. The winner becomes a general election underdog against Rep. James Lankford for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Tom Coburn.

The Florida race has gained national attention both for Crist's resurrection attempt and Scott's struggles.

Scott, a wealthy health care executive who had never held public office before, won the job with less than a majority in 2010, and his first term has been marked by low approval ratings and struggles against the GOP-led legislature.

All of that has Democrats primed for an opportunity to pick up a governor's seat in a state President Barack Obama won twice. But in their favorite, they have a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who has left some party faithful wary.

Arlen Ustin, a 72-year-old retiree in Delray Beach, said Crist has been "insulting" to Democrats by refusing to debate Rich and campaigning as if the general election was already at hand. "I will be out there for him" should he win, Ustin said, but she added, "It can't be the way I am for Nan because she's just exceptional."

Other Democrats, though, suggested they were comfortable with Crist because they believe he has the best chance in the general election.

"I like Nan Rich, but I voted for Charlie Crist because he has the best chance of beating Rick Scott," Florida resident Richard Maisel told the Tampa Bay Times.

Crist has largely ignored his primary opponent, choosing instead to attack Scott in an effort to soften the incumbent's support ahead of the general election. Scott has returned fire, blanketing Florida's airwaves with millions of dollars attacking Crist's record as governor and his decision to switch parties.

The early skirmishes have left Rich feeling a bit left out. "My opponents are extremely negative toward each other. People are noticing it and they're not liking it, and they're looking for someone else," Rich told the Times. "Both of them have totally ignored me. We'll see how that works out."

Crist's last foray into statewide politics ended in embarrassment for him and for Democrats. In 2010, three years into his term as governor, Crist decided not to run for re-election, instead trying for the Senate. Already unpopular among conservatives in part for backing Obama's economic stimulus law, he ran as an independent rather than face GOP primary voters. Crist finished well behind the eventual winner, Republican Marco Rubio, but still relegated the Democratic nominee, congressman Kendrick Meek, to an even more distant third.

Since then, Crist declared he was a Democrat, complete with a full embrace of the Obama administration. He endorsed the president for a second term in 2012 and campaigns as an unapologetic defender of Obama's health care law. That sets up the potential fault lines in a race against Scott, who initially called for expanding Medicaid insurance rolls under the new law but backed off when GOP lawmakers balked.

Despite approval ratings that leave something to be desired, Scott, a multimillionaire, will likely enjoy a considerable financial advantage over Crist, raising the likelihood of a close race. Crist has proven to be an exceptional fundraiser in his own right, though: he's raised $6.4 million in campaign contributions to date, and a separate political action committee that accepts unlimited donations has amassed more than $14 million, according to the Times.

While Crist enjoyed a moderate lead in the polls shortly after he declared his candidacy, the incumbent has recently closed the gap, even vaulting ahead in some surveys. A CBS News/New York Times/YouGov survey released last month showed Scott ahead of Crist by five points, 48 to 43 percent.

In Arizona, Brewer has put her muscle behind former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. The pair appeared together at multiple campaign stops Monday trying to rally last-minute support. But state Treasurer Doug Ducey has painted himself as the front-runner in the race, citing a broad coalition of business leaders and other political figures. The field includes former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones and Secretary of State Ken Bennett, among others.

Democrat Fred DuVal is unopposed in his primary and will face the GOP winner in November.

Brewer stressed in a recent appearance that the GOP nominee must work quickly after a bitter, expensive primary. "We all know that during a primary, things get kinda hot and heavy," she said.

In Vermont, the most interesting dynamics may involve write-in campaigns by third-party hopefuls trying to crash the major party primaries.

Dan Feliciano is a Libertarian, but he's running for the Senate as a write-in candidate in the Republican primary against three other candidates - Scott Milne, Steve Berry and Emily Peyton - whose names appear on the ballots. Milne, a businessman, is the favorite.

Meanwhile, Democrats were expected to nominate a write-in candidate - Progressive Dean Corren - for lieutenant governor after the only candidate dropped out.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.