An Indian-American woman and a black man pursued the Republican nominations for governor and Congress in South Carolina primary runoffs Tuesday in a measure of racial progress in the Deep South and the GOP. Voters in Utah, North Carolina and Mississippi decided on their final nominees for November.
State lawmaker Nikki Haley brushed aside allegations of marital infidelity and to come within a percentage point of winning the gubernatorial nod on June 8. She's the odds-on favorite to win the runoff against Rep. Gresham Barrett and move a step closer to becoming the first female governor in the conservative-leaning state.
Renee McKissick, 53, of Columbia, said she voted for Haley two weeks ago and felt coming out Tuesday would validate that decision.
"I like Haley because she's firm in her convictions and she didn't let any of the attacks of the last weeks get to her," McKissick said.
Tim Scott hoped to become the state's first black GOP congressman in more than a century. Scott, who has the backing of several Republican leaders in Washington, is in a runoff with Paul Thurmond, the son of the late U.S. Sen. and former segregationist Strom Thurmond. The GOP-leaning district stretches down the Carolina coast and includes Fort Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
If elected to the House, Scott would be the GOP's first black lawmaker since Oklahoma's J.C. Watts retired in 2003.
Six-term Republican Rep. Bob Inglis was trying to hold onto his House seat in a runoff against prosecutor Trey Gowdy.
In North Carolina, Democrats were deciding whether to nominate Secretary of State Elaine Marshall or state Sen. Cal Cunningham in the race to challenge GOP Sen. Richard Burr in the fall. And Utah Republicans were choosing a GOP primary successor to vanquished Utah Sen. Bob Bennett.
Tuesday's runoffs and primaries played out across a handful of states, the latest cluster of contests to determine matchups for the fall's midterm congressional elections. Already, 2010 is shaping up to be an anti-establishment year with angry voters casting ballots against candidates with ties to Washington and the political parties.
Perhaps no other contest illustrated that better than the runoff between Haley, a state legislator with the backing of tea party activists and Sarah Palin, and Barrett, a four-term congressman who has had to answer for his 2008 vote for the unpopular Wall Street bailout.
Haley handily beat Barrett, two other Republicans and allegations of infidelity two weeks ago, but she didn't earn the 50 percent needed to win the nomination outright,that has grown nastier by the day.
Should she win the GOP nomination, she'll be considered the front-runner in the race against the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen. The disgracedis leaving the post because of term limits.
Aside from Barrett, the bailout vote also could thwart Inglis' quest for another term in the 4th Congressional District. Spartanburg prosecutor Gowdy forced Inglis into a runoff after making the race a referendum on the incumbent's bailout vote and casting him as not conservative enough for the district.
In Utah, Republicans chose between businessman Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee for the GOP Senate nomination. It's likely whoever wins will become the next Utah senator. A Democrat hasn't won a Senate race in Utah since 1970.
Illustrating how fractured the tea party movement is in Utah, one of the founders of the state's tea party movement, David Kirkham, endorsed Bridgewater on Monday. But Lee had already picked up the support of the California-based Tea Party Express, which is weighing in on primary races nationwide.
The victor will succeed Bennett, who lost his bid last month for a fourth term. Conservatives at the GOP state convention punished him for his support of the bailout, officially known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program.