Skip to main content
ABC News
Kansas, Michigan, Missouri Primary Preview

Three states (Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri) are holding primaries tomorrow, and aside from marquee gubernatorial contests in both parties in MI, and a close Republican Senate primary in KS, there will be a host of competitive congressional races, mostly on the GOP side, and many for open but relatively safe Republican seats.

In terms of races expected to be competitive in November, the contests to watch are the governor’s race in MI, along with the 1st, 3d, 7th, and 9th CDs; the 3d and 4th CDs in KS; and the 4th CD in MO.

Looking at the basics: MI and MO are open primary states, while in Kansas, Republicans have a close primary and Democrats allow independent voters to participate. Michigan’s system is unusual in that voters are given ballots with both primary contests included, and decide whether to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary in the privacy of the voting booth (this system also seems to encourage a lot of confusion and spoiled ballots based on the misperception that voters can participate in both primaries).

Turnout is expected to be pretty much (depressingly) normal for midterm primaries: 20-25% in Michigan; 25% in Missouri; 20% in Kansas. In the open primary states, there’s considerable uncertainty about the partisan split in turnout, though the higher number of competitive GOP races is likely to boost Republican turnout in both states.

Looking at the big nationally significant races first:

The Michigan gubernatorial contest must be understood in terms of the state’s recent Democratic tilt, counterbalanced by voter fatigue with two-term Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm (the state House is also controlled by Democrats, and the Senate by the GOP). Neither Democratic candidate for governor is running as Granholm’s protege. But there is a distinct perceived ideological difference between House Speaker Andy Dillon, generally considered a pro-business moderate, and Lansing mayor Virg Bernero, backed by Michigan’s powerful labor movement. The recent EPIC/MRA poll shows Bernero surging into a 40-32 lead over Dillon, but with a large undecided vote.

On the Republican side, that same survey indicated a very close three-way race among Attorney General Mike Cox, Congressman Pete Hoekstra, and former Gateway executive Rick Snyder. A fourth candidate, Oakland County sheriff Mike Bouchard, who’s gotten a lot of attention as the preferred candidate of rocking right-winger Ted Nugent (whom I saw perform, way back in the day, down in Georgia with the Amboy Dukes), was well back from the pack but theoretically in striking distance.

I’ve done a separate FiveThirtyEight post on Snyder’s campaign and its unusual (this year) appeal to crossover voters, but it’s not at all clear whether the “nerdy guy” can win, despite a gusher of self-funded spending. The Cox-Hoekstra-Bouchard competition for the “true conservative” mantle does, in a non-runoff state, create some political real estate for an unapologetic moderate, and if Snyder can get a serious crossover vote, he’s the favorite to win.

Meanwhile, over in Kansas, two Republican congressmen, Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt, are in a cage-match for the nomination to succeed Sen. Sam Brownback, who is the odds-on favorite for election to the governorship. Moran represents the heavily Republican central-west KS first CD, while Tiahrt represents the slightly more marginal Wichita-based 4th CD. Both candidates are hard-core conservatives by national standards, but despite endorsements from Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, Moran is fighting the RINO label, and may depend on a strong showing in the relatively moderate Kansas City suburbs to win. Moran has had a decided financial advantage. Tiahrt has been endorsed by Sarah Palin, Tom Tancredo, and major gun rights and anti-abortion groups. A late SUSA poll showed Moran leading 49-39, but with Tiahrt having some momentum.

If you want a good indication of how finely movement conservatives are splitting hairs over the Moran-Tiahrt choice, look at this post from Kathryn Lopez at National Review’s The Corner, which examines their anti-abortion views in detail.

The other big statewide primary tomorrow is in MO, where congressman Roy Blunt is the heavy favorite to defeat Tea Party activist Chuck Purgason. Blunt had a comfortable lead in the last public poll back in March, and has since vastly outspent Purgason.

As noted above, there are four Republican House primaries in MI involving competitive districts.

In the 1st (Upper Peninisula based) District, formerly represented by the famous pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak, Republicans are rumbling for the chance to take on designated Democratic Garry McDowell. The two favorites are Tea Party-ish Dr. Dan Beneshiak, who was the putative Republican challenger to Stupak before he got out of the race, and state senator Jason Allen. They both have raised and spent a lot of money, and the results should be close.

In the Western Michigan 3d District, an open seat represented by retiring Republican Rep. Vern Ehlers, Democrats have a strong candidate in Pat Miles. The GOP primary features an African-American Republican elected official, state rep. Bill Hardiman, who is in the middle of a pack including former local elected offical Steve Heacock and Club for Growth favorite Justin Amash. A Michigan polling firm shows Amash leading Haridison 28-23, with Heacock at 17.

In the southern MI 7th district, the Republican defeated by freshman Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer in 2008, Tim Walberg, has been the front-runner for a rematch, but is now facing a tough primary from Brian Rooney, brother of Florida congressman Tom Rooney. Though Rooney has been blasting Walberg for accepting an endorsement from pro-choice Rudy Giuliani, he’s generally considered the moderate in the race, and the beneficiary of those who’d like to see a different challenger to Schauer.

And in the Oakland County-based 9th District, where another freshman Democrat, Gary Peters, is running for re-election, there’s a red-hot GOP primary involving former state rep. Rocky Raczkowski and former congressional staffer Paul Welday. Rackowski was the early favorite, but is now struggling with bad press over the remarks of Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly at one of his fundraisers, attacking unmarried women who support Barack Obama as self-interested welfare beneficiaries.

In Kansas’s suburban 3d District, where Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore is retiring–to be succeeded, he hopes, by his wife, near-certain Democratic nominee Stephene Moore–ten Republicans are running for the nomination, but only two are competitive: front-runner Kevin Yoder, who has spent nearly a million bucks on his campaign, and former state representative Patricia Lightner, who’s been endorsed by pro-life organizations and is hoping for a grassroots-led upset.

And in Todd Tiahrt’s 4th CD, there is a potentially strong and well-financed Democrat, Raj Goyle, poised to face the winner of a very competitive GOP primary in which three candidates, pro-choice state senator Jean Schodorf and business owners Mike Pompeo and Wink Hartman are in a close three-way race.

Down in Missouri, the big GOP primary is in the 4th District, where ex-state representative Vicky Hartzler and state senator Bill Stouffer are leading a huge field of candidates for the nomination to face Democratic veteran (and House Armed Services Committee chair) Ike Skelton in a red-leaning district. Hartzler is a longtime Christian Right activist, while Stouffer benefits from some GOP establishment support. The two candidates have been bashing each other as insufficiently conservative, while the embattled incumbent raises money.

There are other primaries in safe Republican districts, and I’ll report the results tomorrow night. And there’s one significant ballot initiative, in MO: Proposition C, which purports to create obstacles to state implementation of national health reform legislation, and is likely to pass thanks to the preponderance of competitive Republican primaries in the Show-Me State.