Downballot Derby: Ore., Ky. Dems Pick Senate Candidates

Democrats in Kentucky and Oregon were voting for more than just their presidential pick last night. Voters also selected senate candidates to go up against Republican incumbents whom party leaders hope they can knock off in the fall.

In Oregon, House Speaker Jeff Merkley narrowly won the senate primary over activist Steve Novick, who gained attention by making light of a metal hook he has in place of his left hand due to a birth defect (you can see one of his ads here). Merkley was recruited by national party leaders to take on Republican incumbent Sen. Gordon Smith. Oregon is a state that has trended Democratic in recent cycles and is near the top of the party's targets for a takeover in November.

In Kentucky, millionaire businessman Bruce Lunsford defeated seven other Democrats for the chance to take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The powerful four-term incumbent would seem to be safe in a state President Bush carried by 20 points in 2004, but Democrats picked up the governor's mansion last year and are hoping they can ride a Democratic wave in the fall to oust the Senate's top Republican. The race also figures to be a high spending affair as McConnell has already raised at least $12 million and Lunsford spent $14 million in two failed gubernatorial bids in 2003 and 2007 (where he failed to advance beyond the primary).

House Primaries: The most interesting House primary last night was in Oregon's 5th district, where Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley's surprise retirement announcement in February made the district perhaps one of the most competitive in the country. In the Republican primary, Mike Erickson defeated former state Rep. Kevin Mannix, despite the fact that a week ago Mannix sent out a letter accusing Erickson of paying for a girlfriend's abortion eight years ago. Erickson denied the allegations, and the attacks appeared to have backfired. Mannix conceded the race this morning, but said he will not support Erickson, who will face Democratic state Sen. Kurt Schrader in November.

In Kentucky's 3rd District, the Republican primary set up a rematch of the 2006 match-up. Republican former Rep. Anne M. Northup will face off against Democratic Rep. John A. Yarmuth, who denied her bid for a sixth term two years ago.

In Kentucky's 2nd district, an open seat created by the retirement of Republican Rep. Ron Lewis will be contested between Republican state Sen. Brett Guthrie and Democratic state Sen. David Boswell. Guthrie is the early favorite in this race to keep the seat in Republican hands.

Other incumbents cruised to victories in both states and will be heavily favored in the fall.

The Money Race: Both parties' Senate and congressional campaign arms had to report their April financial situation to the FEC by yesterday. For the Senate races, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reported $37.6 million cash on hand and the National Republican Senatorial Committee reported $19.4 million. However, for the month of April, the NRSC edged the DSCC in contributions, $4.3 million to $4.2 million.

On the House side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reported $45.3 million in the bank and the National Republican Congressional Committee reported $6.7 million. The DCCC also brought in more during April -- $5 million to $4.3 million for the NRCC.

New York 13th District: Republican Rep. Vito Fossella announced he would not seek reelection to his New York City district after he was arrested for drunken driving in Virginia earlier this month and admitted fathering a child out of wedlock. The congressman from Staten Island is the lone Republican in New York City's congressional delegation. Republicans are hoping his retirement from Congress amid the scandal boosts their chances of holding on to the seat in the district that voted 55 percent for Mr. Bush in 2004.