McConnell wins GOP Kentucky primary; Grimes and Nunn win key Democratic races
WASHINGTON – Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dispatched his tea party challenger with ease Tuesday night, and Democrats turned to two women, Alison Lundergan Grimes to oppose him in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn to fight for Georgia, in elections next fall with control of the Senate at stake.
Setting up a third high-profile race, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and his Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, were unopposed for their parties’ nominations.
On the busiest primary night of the year to date, Democrats eyeing a return to power in the Pennsylvania state Capitol nominated businessman Tom Wolf to oppose Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s bid for a second term.
Republican primary struggles between establishment-backed conservatives and tea party-favored rivals were a dominant feature of the evening, as they had been earlier in North Carolina and will be later in Mississippi, Kansas and Alaska. Republicans must gain six seats to win a Senate majority, and party leaders have made it a priority to avoid the presence of candidates on the ballot this fall who are seen as too conservative or unsteady – or both – to prevail in winnable races.
McConnell, a five-term lawmaker and the embodiment of the GOP establishment, won 60 percent of the vote in Kentucky. Challenger Matt Bevin pulled 36 percent.
For Democrats, Tuesday night was a chance to showcase challengers – both of them women – in the rare states where the party has hopes of picking up GOP-held seats.
Grimes, a prize Democratic recruit, piled up 76 percent in a four-way race, winning her Kentucky primary with ease.
She and McConnell wasted no time turning their attention to the fall campaign.
“Make me the majority leader and Kentucky will lead America,” McConnell said in an appeal to home state pride, adding that he would use his power to check President Barack Obama’s agenda.
Grimes said Obama wasn’t on the ballot, and responded forcefully to some of the campaign barbs that have already come her way. “‘I am not an empty dress. I am not a rubber stamp. And I am not a cheerleader. I am a strong Kentucky woman,” she told cheering supporters in Lexington.
In Georgia, Nunn, whose father was a four-term Democratic senator from the state, easily outpaced her Democratic rivals and awaited the outcome of the GOP primary to learn her opponent for the fall.
Republicans set up a July 22 runoff between businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston – survivors of a seven-way primary – to select an opponent for Nunn.
Along with Perdue, Kingston and Secretary of State Karen Handel, Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun also were on the Georgia Republican ballot, and the presence of three incumbent lawmakers in the Senate race assured a large turnover in the state’s House delegation come January.
Bevin was backed by tea party groups in the state where they made their mark four years ago by sweeping GOP Sen. Rand Paul into office.
In Oregon, Monica Wehby, a physician, won the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley in a race that GOP strategists hope can become more competitive as the year unfolds.
In Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal defeated two primary challengers. State Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of the 39th president, was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Republican Corbett’s poor ratings in Pennsylvania drew a crowd in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Wolf outpaced a Democratic field that included Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who began the campaign as the front-runner.
Arkansas primary voters set up a race between Republican Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman who also served in the Bush organization, and former Democratic Rep. Mike Ross.
Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon won nomination to a fourth term. State Rep. Dennis Richardson beat five rivals handily for the Republican spot on the ballot.
In Pennsylvania, Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law, former Rep. Marjorie Margolies, lost her bid to return to the House – despite fundraising and other campaign help from Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Former Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia ran second and qualified for a runoff.
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