The most intense phase of the 2014 primary season is headed for a climactic finish Tuesday night, as five states choose their general-election nominees and put an end to some of the most rancourous intra-party clashes of the midterm cycle.
The results of tonight’s elections will help shape the ideological battle lines of the 2014 campaign – particularly on the Republican side, where a handful of insurgent primary candidates have threatened to upend the GOP playbook for the fall.
In Mississippi, where polls close at 8 p.m. Eastern, Republican Sen. Thad Cochran and conservative challenger Chris McDaniel are locked in a runoff campaign for the GOP Senate nomination. After deadlocking in a June 3 primary, the two men fought out their expensive duel for another three weeks.
Cochran has pinned his hopes on growing the Mississippi electorate to include independents and casual Republican voters who may not have participated in the first round of voting. McDaniel has continued to deliver the hard-edged, anti-incumbency message that brought him within a hair’s breadth of unseating Cochran earlier this month.
National groups have invested heavily in the race, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Cochran and the Club for Growth for McDaniel. The insurgent challenger was believed to have an edge heading into the runoff vote – a potential headache for national Republicans who have assailed McDaniel as an outside-the-mainstream figure likely to repel minorities from the GOP.
Far more potentially troublesome to the GOP is Colorado, where former Rep. Tom Tancredo – the flamboyant immigration hardliner – is in a competitive race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Democrats have spent money to boost Tancredo against his primary opponents, including his former House colleague Bob Beauprez.
Should Tancredo capture the nomination to face Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, Republicans believe it would drag down their prized Senate candidate, Rep. Cory Gardner, in his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
Polls close in Colorado at 9 p.m. on the East Coast.
If the most consequential primaries have unfolded on the Republican side, Democrats have a pitched battle of their own to contend with in New York. Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel is seeking to turn back a challenge from former state legislator Adriano Espaillat and clergyman Michael Walrond.
Rangel, the third-longest tenured Democrat in the House, has faced an embarrassing array of ethics scandals over the past several years and has been forced to compete in a new district with a large Hispanic population that might favor his challenger. Still, the race is believed to be a close-run thing and the most recent public polling showed Rangel with a 13-point lead.
There are additional primaries worth watching in Maryland, where three Democrats are fighting to succeed outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley; and Oklahoma, where Republicans are choosing a successor to Sen. Tom Coburn, who is resigning his seat due to poor health. Voting ends in both states at 8 p.m. Eastern.
In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is expected to defeat state Attorney General Doug Gansler and state Del. Heather Mizeur for the gubernatorial nomination. Initially viewed as an underdog to the heavily-funded Gansler, Brown emerged as a clear favorite late last year, capturing an early lead and never relinquishing it.
Should he win the general election in November, Brown will become Maryland’s first black governor – and likely the only black governor in the country after Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick leaves office.
This week’s vote may not be the final word on Oklahoma’s Senate primary, since three candidates are competing and none has claimed a majority in polling up to this point. If none of the candidates wins 50 percent of the vote, the race goes to an Aug. 26 runoff.
The top two contenders are Rep. Jim Lankford and former state House Speaker T. W. Shannon, who has enjoyed significant outside spending on his behalf from national conservative groups.
The very first polls of the night close at 7 p.m. in Florida, home to a handful of congressional primaries. Party-switching former Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to capture the Democratic nomination for Florida governor easily, facing state Sen. Nan Rich in tonight’s vote.