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NC Runoff, Coats and Fisher Win Amid Light Turnout

A quick roundup of primary results tonight from the Senate primaries in Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana:

Starting in North Carolina, the Democratic Senate primary to determine who will face Republican Richard Burr this November is not settled yet because no candidate got 40 percent of the vote. Elaine Marshall finished first, with 36 percent, and will face Democratic establishment favorite Cal Cunningham (27 percent) in the runoff on June 22. As the Raleigh News & Observer reported, both “had high praise for third place finisher Ken Lewis, whose endorsement would be a key for either campaign.”

In Ohio, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher has beaten Jennifer Bruner (with 86 percent of precincts reporting, as I file this) in the Democratic primary for the US Senate seat in the Buckeye State. Fisher will face former Republican congressman and Bush43 OMB director Rob Portman in the contest to replace the retiring George Voinovich. Polling in this expected matchup has thus far been tight.

Finally, in his bid to recapture the Indiana seat he inherited back in 1989 when Dan Quayle vacated it to become vice president, former Sen. Dan Coats won, but not exactly convincingly: 39 percent to Marlin Stutzman’s 30 percent, with the third-place finisher John Hostettler garnering another 22 percent. Coats will face Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth (who beat Hostettler in 2006 for the 8th District House seat) in the general election.

But the most telling result of the night may be this, as reported by the Associated Press: “Turnout was exceptionally light in Ohio and North Carolina, a possible indication that the anger fueling voters across the country over economic woes, persistently high unemployment and Congress itself wasn’t translating into votes — and, perhaps, the limited influence of the conservatives and libertarians who make up the fledgling tea party coalition.”

This was supposed to be the year of Nationalized Scott Brown Phenomenon, of sound and fury signifying something. If in fact it turns out that tea party activism is more bark than bite–as I wondered aloud in a post last night–then expected Republican gains this November may not be as great as some are projecting. Of course, the “perhaps” in the AP quote is an important qualifier, given that the main contest in two of the three states was a Democratic primary fight. Perhaps there just wasn’t much for the anti-incumbent crowd to get excited about today.

In any case, although Democrats are facing a tough Senate cycle, two of the seats they have at least some chance of flipping are in Ohio and North Carolina. After today they know the identity of their nominee in the former but not the second. The DSCC will have to decide how much money it funnels into each of these races, but right now Fisher in Ohio looks like the more promising bet.