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Today’s Democratic Senate Primaries

Democratic voters, though not a whole lot of them, will troop to the polls today in Ohio and North Carolina to nominate candidates for U.S. Senate seats currently held by the GOP. There’s not a lot of drama in either primary, as compared to the Republican contest in Indiana. But Ohio will nominate a candidate who is immediately competitive in the general election, while the big question in North Carolina is whether the campaign will go to a runoff in seven weeks.

Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a fixture in Ohio politics for a generation (his first race for office was in 1980), is heavily favored to win the Ohio primary over Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a candidate who attracted considerable progressive netroots support but not enough money to overtake the front-runner. Two recent polls (Quinnipiac and Suffolk) have shown Fisher opening up a big lead over Brunner (43/23 in the Q-poll, and 55/27 in Suffolk), and he’s outspent her nearly four-to-one.

The really good news for Ohio Democrats is that both Fisher and Brunner have been running even or slightly ahead of the unopposed Republican nominee, former U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, best known for being budget director and U.S. trade representative in the Bush 43 administration. A late-April Quinnipiac survey had Fisher leading Portman 40/37, and Brunner up 40/36. A win in OH could help Democrats offset expected losses elsewhere.

In North Carolina, longtime Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (perhaps best known outside NC for beating NASCAR legend Richard Petty in her first race for SoS in 1996) has led the contest from the beginning. But poor general-election trial heat showings against incumbent Sen. Richard Burr spurred the DSCC to recruit and help finance another candidate, former state senator (and Iraq War vet) Cal Cunningham.

Marshall must have a sense of deja vu, since she lost her first Senate primary in 2002 to Erskine Bowles, another DC recruit.

With a third candidate, African-American attorney Ken Lewis, receiving significant but not top-tier support, it’s unclear whether one of the front-runners can cross the 40% threshold necessary to avoid a June 22 runoff. The most recent PPP poll of NC shows Marshall leading Cunningham 28/21, with more than 30% still undecided. PPP’s Tom Jensen (a North Carolinian) believes the undecided vote will break heavily to the two better-known candidates, probably producing a nominee tonight. As for November, Burr is not a political ball of fire, and is theoretically vulnerable, but has led his two most likely opponents consistently. A mid-April PPP survey showed Burr’s approval/disapproval ratio at a less-than-impressive 32/41, though he also led Marshall by 43/37 and Cunningham by 43/35.