In a volatile year in which the rules of politics are being rewritten, Tuesday's elections will render a verdict on an important question facing all candidates: Is it more damaging to be accused of adultery or to advocate paying for health care with chickens? In Nevada, Republican Sue Lowden cast her lot with the chickens and has lost the lead in her party's primary. In South Carolina, Nikki Haley has twice been accused of cheating on her husband and still appears to hold a wide lead—her candidacy may have even gotten stronger. In California and Arkansas, voters will have more conventional choices as they pick candidates for Senate and governor. Here's a look at each of the big races:
Arkansas Democratic senatorial runoff. Blanche Lincoln is the biggest politician who may fall on Election Day. If so, she will join Utah Republican Robert Bennett and Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter as incumbent senators who couldn't survive their primaries. A month ago, Lincoln barely defeated Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who has been heavily backed by unions and progressive groups. Now those groups get a second shot because of Arkansas' runoff rules, and they're hoping to claim a victory not as much for Halter as for their muscle, showing at-risk Democrats there will be penalties if they don't heed party activists.
If Halter wins, he faces a tough general-election campaign in this Republican-leaning state. The challenge will be how hard Democratic activists work for him once the anti-Lincoln message has been sent. "He's not exactly the great white progressive hope," says one of the activists involved.
If Lincoln pulls out a win, it will be a sign that it's possible in this throw-the-bums-out year, even as a two-term incumbent, to redirect some of the anti-insider anger at your opponent. In the weeks leading up to the election, Lincoln, with the aid of former president Bill Clinton, has been arguing that Halter is merely a captive of the unions, which are insiders, too.
Nevada Republican senatorial primary: The latest poll out of Nevada shows Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle in the lead with 32 percent of the vote. Her opponents, Danny Tarkanian and Sue Lowden (she of the chicken comments), are effectively tied for second with 24 percent and 23 percent. Democrats have long been pushing the idea that the GOP is squandering its chances by electing ultra-conservative candidates who can't win in the general election. (See Paul, Rand.) This may be another such case. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has looked vulnerable but now beats Angle in the polls.
South Carolina Republican gubernatorial primary. One more adultery charge and Nikki Haley would have the nomination locked up. In the last three weeks, two men have alleged affairs with her. In that time, her standing with voters seems to have improved. According to a recent poll, only 13 percent of voters believe the allegations about Haley's marital infidelity. The difference between Lowden in Nevada and Haley may be that there's tape of Lowden making her comment about chickens but no proof at all of the charges against Haley. She has vigorously denied the allegations and promised to resign once elected if either man—one a blogger and one a lobbyist—comes forward with proof of their accusations (though one has taken a polygraph in an attempt to show he's not lying). Though the state is known for its gutter-style politics, none of Haley's opponents has really pressed the adultery allegations. Still, the state has boobs aplenty: Jake Knotts, a state senator who supports one of her opponents, called Haley, who is of Indian decent, a "raghead." This may only be the end of the first episode of the reality show. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, Republicans will hold a runoff on June 22. (See Arkansas.)
California Republican gubernatorial and senatorial primaries. If the polls are right, California Republicans are going to nominate two female ex-CEO candidates to run for senate and governor. For the privilege of running this bankrupt state, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who has spent more than $81 million so far—$71 million from her personal fortune—will face Democrat and former Gov. Jerry Brown. In the Senate race, if Carly Fiorina beats her more moderate Republican opponent, Tom Campbell, she will set up the highest-profile contest between two female candidates in the history of American politics. It will be an ideologically sharp battle. Fiorina, is incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer's polar opposite on abortion, gun control, offshore drilling, immigration, and Sarah Palin.