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Downballot Derby: Stevens Faces Primary Battle

Lost in the shuffle on Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' indictment is that he's right smack in the midst not only of a reelection campaign, but also a primary. Even before Tuesday's news, the Senate's longest-serving Republican who was first appointed to the Senate in 1968 was in the fight of his career with Anchorage's Democratic mayor Mark Begich. The latest post-indictment poll had Begish up by 13 points.

But looking ahead to November may be putting the cart before the horse. The 84-year old Stevens first has to survive the August 26 Republican primary, which may no longer be a slam-dunk.

Of Stevens' six GOP challengers, the strongest opponents appear to be David Cuddy or Vic Vickers. Cuddy, a real estate developer who also ran in 1996, has polled second to Stevens in surveys taken before the indictment. But it's Vic Vickers, a lawyer, writer, former banking regulator and Florida maritime company owner, who could be the real wild card. A political newcomer who moved to the state in January, Vickers said he plans to spend $750,000 of his own money on his campaign so that will get him attention. Stevens has $1.6 million in the bank, according to Congressional Quarterly.

Vickers said he had been coming to the state for years and decided to run for the senate while researching a book on corruption in Alaska's oil industry. In his television ad, Vickers stands in front of Stevens' house that was searched, saying he is running to "stop corruption" and won't accept special interest money.

"I think I can beat him. I'm confident I can," Vickers told the recent polls begin to shed light on who has the upper hand in some closely-watched Senate races.

  • In North Carolina, Republican Incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole leads state Sen. Kay Hagan by eight points, 50 to 42, in the latest Research 2000 poll. While Dole was previously thought to be safe, Democrats are feeling they can make this race competitive. And the Associated Press reports that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is beginning to invest in the state with an ad campaign set to begin airing today.
  • In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a 10 point lead, 52-42, over his Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford in a Rasmussen poll. McConnell is favored in this race, but this is another state where Democrats are trying to catch the GOP sleeping or ride a national wave.
  • In Idaho, Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Risch leads Democratic former Rep. Larry LaRocco by 10 points, 42 to 32, in a Research 2000 poll, in the battle to replace Republican Sen. Larry Craig. Risch has defeated Rocco twice before in elections, including the 2006 race for lieutenant governor.
  • In Mississippi, two recent polls give contradictory pictures of the race between Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who was appointed to the seat upon Trent Lott's retirement, and Democrat Ronnie Musgrove. A Rasmussen poll gives Wicker a nine-point 52 to 43 lead, but a Research 2000 poll from last week gives Wicker just a one-point 45 to 44 lead.
  • In Minnesota, two recent polls also give competing versions of the race. In a Quinnipiac/Wall Street Journal/ poll, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman leads Democrat Al Franken by 15 points, 53 to 38. But a Rasmussen poll shows Franken with a three-point 49 to 46 lead.
  • In Colorado, two polls are showing a tight race between Democratic Rep. Mark Udall and former Republican Rep. Bob Schaffer to fill the seat left by retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard. In a Quinnipiac/Wall Street Journal/ poll, both candidates are tied at 44 percent. In a Rasmussen poll, Udall leads by three points, 49 to 46.
  • And finally in New Hampshire, Republican Sen. John Sununu is in a fight with former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. The latest poll from the University of New Hampshire shows Shaheen has a four point lead, 46 to 42.