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First Thoughts: Five primary day stories to watch

Five stories to watch on this Primary Day… 1) The insiders vs. the outsiders in FL… 2) Which McCain will we see after his expected primary win?... 3) What happens to Ben Quayle (or Pamela Gorman) in AZ?... 4) What political force is more important in Alaskan politics -- Palin-ism or Stevens-ism?... 5) And don’t forget about the contests in Vermont and Oklahoma… Final polls close in VT at 7:00 pm ET, in FL and OK at 8:00 pm ET, in AZ at 10:00 pm ET, and in AK at 1:00 am ET… Also on tap today: Boehner’s big economic speech… And previewing NJ-3.

*** Five primary day stories to watch: With the exception of the contests on Sept. 14, today is the last great Primary Day of this midterm cycle. And it has plenty of consequence -- with primaries impacting the toss-up gubernatorial and Senate general elections in America's most competitive battleground (Florida), with the GOP's 2008 standard-bearer receiving a highly scrutinized challenge, and with Palin-ism facing off against Stevens-ism in Alaska. Here are the five stories we’re watching.

*** The insiders vs. the outsiders: First, in Florida today, we’ll find out what's worse -- political insiders running in this anti-Washington, anti-establishment political environment, or wealthy billionaire outsiders with flawed resumes. In the GOP gubernatorial primary, state Attorney General Bill McCollum (who was a former member of Congress and ran for the Senate in ’04) faces off against former hospital executive Rick Scott (whose hospital chain was fined for fraud committed during his tenure there). The winner will take on Democrat Alex Sink in the fall, and the question is whether the divisive and expensive McCollum-Scott primary will hurt the GOP’s chances in this race. In the Democratic Senate primary, Congressman Kendrick Meek takes on billionaire Jeff Greene (who made his money betting against subprime loans, who had Mike Tyson serve as the best man at his wedding, and whose yacht has received plenty of negative attention). The winner will compete in a three-way contest along with Marco Rubio (R) and Charlie Crist (I). The question: If Meek wins as expected, will that rob Crist of the Dem votes (and endorsements) he needs? Polls in Florida close at 8:00 pm ET.

*** Which McCain will we see after today? Second, John McCain is expected to cruise to victory in his Senate GOP primary in Arizona against ex-Congressman J.D. Hayworth. But "cruise" is a relative term; don’t expect McCain’s percentage to exceed the 50s. The reason? There’s a third-party candidate in the race, businessman Jim Deakin, who might get double-digit support. So it wouldn’t be surprising if McCain got 55%, Hayworth got 35%, and Deakin got about 10% -- which is why McCain’s campaign was as aggressive as it was (spending some $20 million, hammering Hayworth on the airwaves, moving to the right on immigration). There was always going to be a sizable segment of the GOP electorate in Arizona opposed to McCain; it just turns out that an infomercial huckster wasn’t going to beat him. Our question: Which McCain will we see return to Washington after today -- the Obama-criticizing conservative or the deal-cutting maverick? Polls close in Arizona at 10:00 pm ET.

*** What happens to Ben Quayle? Third, there’s the competitive and crowded congressional GOP primary in Arizona to replace retiring Rep. John Shadegg (R). One of the candidates in the field -- Ben Quayle, son of the ex-VP -- received a considerable amount of attention (and criticism) over his tough anti-Obama TV ad. Also running in this primary is Pamela Gorman, whose TV ad showing her firing a variety of automatic weapons landed her on our list of top ads this cycle. In a more Democratic-friendly year, this district would actually be FULLY in play in the fall. Democrats might make the case they could make this competitive if either Quayle or Gorman end up with the nomination. By the way, remember six months ago -- pre-Arizona immigration law -- when Democrats thought one of their five best pickup opportunities for governor was in Arizona? That’s not the case anymore.

*** Palin-ism vs. Stevens-ism: Fourth, an irony of the Tea Party movement is that one of its key cheerleaders, Sarah Palin, hails from Alaska, which has arguably benefited more from federal spending than any other state in the nation. And that’s why Tea Party- and Palin-backed Joe Miller hasn’t presented much of a challenge to incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski. As it turns out, bringing home the bacon -- as the late Ted Stevens (R) practiced while in the Senate, and as Murkowski practices now -- trumps the Tea Party’s crusade against pork and spending. Bottom line: Alaskans like their “Bridges to Nowhere.” Final polls in the state close at 1:00 am ET.

*** And don’t forget about Vermont and Oklahoma: Finally, while the primaries in Florida, Arizona, and Alaska have received most of the attention, there are also contests today in Vermont and Oklahoma. In Vermont, where polls close at 7:00 pm ET, a handful of Democrats are competing in a gubernatorial primary, and the winner will face the wonderfully named Brian Dubie (R) in the general election to replace retiring Gov. Jim Douglas (R). And in Oklahoma, where polls close at 8:00 pm ET, there are a couple of congressional run-offs to finalize the field for November.

*** Boehner’s big speech: The other big political event today is House Minority Leader John Boehner’s economic speech, which he was scheduled to deliver at 8:00 am ET at the City Club of Cleveland. Per an advanced copy of the speech, Boehner calls for extending the Bush tax cuts, cutting spending, and eliminating uncertainty for businesses. But a quick read of the speech reveals that it contains more rhetoric than actual policy proposals; it doesn’t really list specifics about how he plans to cut spending and the debt, especially if you extend the Bush tax cuts. He talks about running the House differently, but he doesn't say how exactly. The one bit of news that the wires is running with is Boehner's call for the resignation of Obama's economic team. There’s also one intriguing policy proposal he mentions that a "Speaker Boehner" could find common ground with an Obama White House -- tax-code reform. “We need to take a long and hard look at the undergrowth of deductions, credits, and special carve-outs that our tax code has become,” he is expected to say. Our question: Why is Boehner giving this speech now in late August? Is he testing out what could work?

*** The Dems fire back: While it might be late August, Democrats aren’t holding back their fire at Boehner’s speech. Yesterday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz participated in a DNC-sponsored conference call, saying that Boehner would be proposing a return to George W. Bush’s policies. The DNC also has released a Web video whacking the House minority leader. And the White House has blog post pre-butting the speech. “Today, Ohioans will hear an argument for a return to the economic policies that turned a surplus into record deficits and helped create the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”

*** 75 House races to watch: NJ-3: The Democratic nominee is first-term incumbent John Adler. The GOP nominee is former NFL player Jon Runyan. Obama won 52% of the vote in this district in ’08, while Bush got 51% in ’04. As of June 30, Adler had $1.9 million in the bank, and Runyan had $470,000. Adler voted for the stimulus and cap-and-trade, but against health care. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as Lean Democrat.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 70 days

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