Downballot Derby: Incumbents Win N.C., Ind. Primaries

Incumbents all came out on top in congressional primaries held in Indiana and North Carolina yesterday, though there were a few close races and some interesting match-ups were set up for the fall.

The closest primary race was in the state's central 5th district where Republican Rep. Dan Burton defeated emergency room physician John McGoff, 52 percent to 45 percent. Burton, the state's longest-serving congressman, had come under fire during the campaign for missing House votes during a trip to a charity golf tournament. He will be heavily favored in the Republican leaning district in the fall.

Also in Indiana, Democratic Rep. Andre Carson defeated seven primary challengers with 46 percent of the vote in Indianapolis' 7th district. Carson won the seat in a special election held in March to replace his grandmother, former Rep. Rep. Julia Carson, who died in December. He will now have a rematch of that special election with Republican state Rep. Jon Elrod.

The most competitive House race this fall in Indiana may come in the 9th district in the southeastern part of the state. Democratic Rep. Baron Hill will face former Republican Rep. Mike Sodrel for a fourth consecutive time. Hill defeated Sodrel in 2002 and 2006, with Sodrel winning by 1,500 votes in 2004.

In North Carolina, the most closely watched House primary involved Republican Rep. Walter Jones in the third district, home to the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune and other bases. Jones came to prominence for touting "Freedom Fries" in the run-up to the Iraq War, but has since has come to oppose the war and was among the few Republican House members to vote for timetables to withdraw U.S. troops. Jones defeated Joe McLaughlin, a former Army officer, by a comfortable 20-point margin, and he is heavily favored in the general election.

The closest House race in North Carolina this November could come in the 11th district in the Western part of the state, where freshmen Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler, the former NFL quarterback, won in 2006 with 54 percent of the vote. Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower won the Republican primary over two others with 48 percent of the vote.

North Carolina Democrats also held a primary for the chance to take on Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole in the fall. Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan beat Chapel Hill entrepreneur Jim Neal by a big margin. Dole is favored, but Democrats in the state believe they have a chance.

Both states also had closely-watched primaries for gubernatorial races this fall. In North Carolina, Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue will face Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory for the right to replace Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, who is term-limited. And in Indiana, former congresswoman Jill Long Thompson squeaked out a win in the Democratic primary over Indianapolis architect Jim Schellinger by just 7,000 votes, 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. Schellinger initially refused to step aside after the results came in, but then conceded the race later Wednesday, the Indianapolis Star reports. Long Thompson will face incumbent Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels in the fall.

Louisiana Special Elections: On Saturday, Democrats picked up the 6th District seat for the first time in three decades as State Rep. Don Cazayoux defeated Republican publisher Woody Jenkins, 49 percent to 46 percent.

The win in the Baton Rouge-area district gives Democrats a second significant special election victory this year in areas that usually skew heavily Republican. The first win came in March in the Illinois seat once held by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. A third seat could change hands in a May 13 special election in Mississippi.

Also, in the 1st District in the New Orleans-area, Republican state Sen. Steve Scalise overwhelming defeated Democratic college instructor Gilda Reed. The seat has been held by Republicans since 1977.

Senate Tidbits: Also of note on some Senate races to watch…

  • Democratic former Virginia Governor Mark Warner formally kicked off his Senate campaign with a tour around the state. Although the seat is now held by the retiring Republican Sen. John Warner, Mark Warner will be favored over either possible Republican challenger – former Gov. and GOP presidential candidate Jim Gilmore or state Del. Robert G. Marshall
  • Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken agreed to pay about $70,000 in back income taxes in 17 states dating to 2003. He had been hounded by accusations he neglected to file returns in states where he had made speaking engagements, and said his accountant made the mistake.
  • Republican Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi announced he will run for re-election this year, ending speculation that he would retire.