Cochran vs. McDaniel and four more hot primary races to watch

Two of the longest-serving members of Congress are vying to keep their seats, while tea party-backed candidates aim for more upsets of establishment Republicans.

Bruce Newman/Oxford Eagle/AP
Alec Jones straightens a Chris McDaniel signs outside the voting booths at the Oxford Conference Center in Oxford, Miss., Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Voters go to the polls Tuesday to vote in the Republican primary runoff election between incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran and McDaniel. The winner will face Democrat Travis Childers in November's general election.

Today is a big primary day for US politics. There are statewide elections in New York, Oklahoma, Maryland, Colorado, and Utah plus runoffs and special polls in Mississippi and Florida. Two of the longest-serving members of the US Congress are struggling to keep their seats, while tea party-backed candidates are aiming for more upsets of establishment Republicans following the surprise ouster of House majority leader Eric Cantor earlier this month.

Here are five of the most important or interesting individual races to watch:

Will Thad Cochran survive? This is the main event of the day, the race to which every big news organization has dispatched on-scene reporters. Sen. Thad Cochran (R) of Mississippi has won six Senate terms; will he lose on his seventh try? He just might, as tea party-backed opponent state Sen. Chris McDaniel appears have the momentum in the Republican primary. If Senator Cochran, a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committeemanages to prevail, it might be due to non-Republicans. He has reached out to other groups, including largely Democratic African-American voters, to try to save his seat.

Charlie Rangel, ditto. Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York was first elected to Congress in 1970. But now he’s facing at least one primary challenger, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is a serious threat. Representative Rangel is a survivor – he has won reelection despite being censured by his House colleagues for ethics violations – but his district, once predominantly African-American, has become majority Hispanic over the years. Senator Espaillat came within 1,000 votes of toppling Rangel in 2012 and this might finally be his time.

Who will succeed Tom Coburn? Oklahoma’s special election to replace the retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R) perhaps did not get the publicity it deserved due to all the attention turned on Mississippi. The question here is whether any candidate will get enough support to avoid a runoff. Seven hopefuls are in the race, with two clear front-runners: Rep. James Lankford, a member of the House GOP leadership who is also a Baptist minister with strong social conservative support, and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a native American and African-American who’s backed by Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas.

This race is interesting partly because it’s not exactly tea party versus establishment. Both front-runners have elements of both party factions within their biographies. Polls show Representative Lankford ahead, but below the 50 percent needed to win outright. That means the race could be headed to an Aug. 26 runoff election.

Will Tom Tancredo fly in Colorado? Former US Rep. Tom Tancredo is running for the Republican nomination for Colorado governor and giving establishment Republicans fits in the process. The GOP sees incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) as vulnerable, but they worry that Mr. Tancredo is too conservative to win in a generally purple state. In fact, they worry Tancredo is so conservative he’d drag down other GOP candidates in November, hurting their chances of ousting Sen. Mark Udall (D) as well as Governor Hickenlooper.

Tancredo, who briefly ran for president in 2008 and finished second in the 2010 gubernatorial contests running as an independent, is a hard-liner against illegal immigration and has harshly criticized Obamacare. In the primary, he’s facing off against the more establishment-oriented former US Rep. Bob Beauprez, among other candidates.

Does Martin O'Malley have coattails? Maybe you haven’t heard of him, but Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) wants you to learn his name. He’s got national ambitions, possibly for a Cabinet post, possibly for something more. He may well run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 even if Hillary Rodham Clinton is in.

In Maryland, his lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, is running to replace him. But Brown faces two relatively strong primary opponents: state Attorney General Doug Gansler, and state House Delegate Heather Mizeur.

The question isn’t so much whether Brown will win. Polls show him comfortably ahead of Mr. Gansler and Ms. Mizeur. It’s how big the margin will be. If it’s narrow, is that a rebuke of the O’Malley administration? You can bet 2016 foes would play it that way.

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