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Early races for Congress may give forecast for November

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 15, 2010; A02

Circle May 18 on your calendar. What happens that day will tell us much about the mood of the electorate heading into the November midterm elections.

That third Tuesday in May is the de facto Super Tuesday of the 2010 cycle, with a slew of contested Senate primaries and special elections sure to be interpreted ad nauseam for omens of the races this fall.

To wit:

-- Pennsylvania: Sen. Arlen Specter faces voters for the first time since switching from Republican to Democrat in the spring of 2009. He's opposed in the primary by Rep. Joe Sestak, who has enough money to combat Specter's always well-funded campaigns. To be seen is whether Specter's strong support from the entirety of the state and national Democratic parties -- up to and including the White House -- will work in his favor or, in the anti-establishment mood that appears to be at work nationally, whether it will be a net neutral or even a negative.

House strategists will have their hands full, too, particularly with the special election to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D) in the state's southwestern 12th District. Former Murtha district director Mark Critz will face off against businessman Tim Burns (R) in the only district in the country that was carried by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race and by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) four years later.

-- Arkansas: Liberals nationwide have invested their hopes (and money) in Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who is challenging Sen. Blanche Lincoln for the Democratic nomination. Halter has attacked Lincoln for her moderation -- particularly on health care -- and his campaign has been financially fueled by a seven-figure infusion from four liberal interest groups. Organized labor has also pledged to spend millions of dollars to defeat Lincoln, whose poll numbers over the past year have plummeted for both the primary and general election. Liberals have revolted against their own before. Will Arkansas 2010 be a rerun of Sen. Joe Lieberman's defeat at the hands of Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman, in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic primary?

-- Kentucky: In the Bluegrass State, the national focus is on the Republican Senate primary, where businessman Rand Paul -- yes, he is the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a 2008 presidential candidate -- is running against Trey Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state. At the start of the race to replace the retiring Jim Bunning, Paul was seen as a sideshow, a small bump on Grayson's road to the nomination. No longer. Paul, using the online fundraising network pioneered by his father, is at financial parity with Grayson, and polling suggests the two are running neck and neck.

A Paul victory would be the nascent "tea party" movement's first major establishment scalping. Overshadowed -- although it shouldn't be -- by the Paul-Grayson fight is the Democratic Senate primary, in which Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and state Attorney General Jack Conway are competing. Conway leads in the money chase but Mongiardo has the edge in polling on the race.

-- Oregon: Far lower-profile than some other contests on May 18 but no less important are the gubernatorial primaries in the Beaver State. On the Democratic side, John Kitzhaber is trying to reclaim the office he held for eight years in the 1990s, but former secretary of state Bill Bradbury stands in the way. (Kitzhaber isn't the only former governor trying to get back to his old office; four-term GOP governor Terry Branstad is re-running in Iowa). National Republicans are hoping former NBA player -- and Yale grad -- Chris Dudley emerges from a crowded primary field, thinking that his outsider profile could give them a chance in the Democratic-tilting state. Dudley has to hope his political eye is more accurate than his shooting eye -- he was a lifetime 46 percent free throw shooter.

C-SPAN presents

Christmas is coming late (or is it early?) for political junkies.

On Wednesday, C-SPAN will launch a searchable video library that includes all of its programming dating to 1987.

Which means that, if you were so inclined, you could watch every one of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's floor speeches or relive Barack Obama's speech at the 2007 Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

Of the video library, C-SPAN co-president Susan Swain said: "Its extensive holdings will allow the public to see how elected officials, politicians, journalists, experts, authors and other opinion leaders present themselves on the issues of the day and over time."

Bonuses: A "Congressional Chronicle" feature lets viewers to search all floor speeches and committee remarks for any member, and built-in tools allow you to post a video link to Facebook, Twitter or e-mail.

All told, C-SPAN is putting online 160,000 hours of searchable content on Wednesday. The Fix now knows what we will be doing with our weekends for the foreseeable future.

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