The Fix: Primary night hands wins to party establishment

By Chris Cillizza
Wednesday, May 5, 2010; 9:03 AM

1. The establishment wing of both national parties scored wins in Tuesday's Senate primaries in Ohio and Indiana -- and, to a lesser extent, North Carolina.

Neither former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) nor Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D-Ohio) scored terribly convincing victories over their underfunded primary opponents but, in winning, they cleared a necessary hurdle and in so doing beat back challenges from their party's activist base.

The Indiana race drew the majority of attention as Coats struggled to placate the conservative wing of the party. But, those voters wound up splitting their votes between state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, who had the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint , and former Rep. John Hostettler.

Although DeMint praised Stutzman's campaign and the narrow margin by which he lost, it's worth noting that for all the energy generated by conservatives in the contest Coats ultimately prevailed.

A similar but much less high profile scenario played out in Ohio where Fisher beat out Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner for the Democratic nod. Fisher had the backing of state and national Democrats but Brunner drew support from liberals. Fisher managed to win but spent heavily to do so -- spending that means he will start in a deep financial hole against former Rep. Rob Portman (R) in the fall.

North Carolina's Democratic Senate primary posed more questions that it answered. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall finished first but former state Sen. Cal Cunningham kept her under 40 percent of the vote -- ensuring a June 22 runoff.

The question now before the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is whether they officially endorse Cunningham in hopes of catapulting him to a runoff win. And, even if the committee does make such a move, where will the votes of African American attorney Ken Lewis who finished third in the primary last night go?

2. Results in House races on Tuesday largely kept Republican hopes in a handful of competitive Democratic-held districts alive.

In Indiana, cardiologist Larry Buchson narrowly won the 8th district Republican nomination, preserving Republican chances of picking up the seat being vacated by soon-to-be Senate nominee Brad Ellsworth.

The loss of former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) in the neighboring 9th was more of a mixed bag; Sodrel had held the district for a brief time last decade but attorney Todd Young, who won the primary, had argued that the possibility of a fifth race between Sodrel and Rep. Baron Hill (D) was a recipe for disaster for the party.

In Ohio, the victory by businessman Jim Renacci (R) means that Rep. John Boccieri's (D) first re-election race in the 16th district will be a tough one. State Sen. Bob Gibbs, the preferred GOP nominee in the 18th district held by Rep. Zack Space (D), led Fred Dailey by five -- yes, five -- with 94 percent of precincts reports.

North Carolina has a surprising dearth of competitive races but the one Republican target -- the 8th -- will head to a June 22 runoff between wealthy businessman Tim D'Annunzio and former sportscaster Harold Johnson for the right to challenge Rep. Larry Kissell (D) in the fall.

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