Today is a day of reckoning for incumbents, self-financers, and Tea Party candidates alike, as primaries in five states winnow the list of political hopefuls in some of this year's most hard-fought congressional races. Tuesday features Senate, House, and gubernatorial races in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Vermont, as well as a run-off Republican primary in Oklahoma's Second Congressional District. Republican incumbent Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski will face off against Tea Party upstarts, while the pools of candidates will be pared down in hotly contested open races, like that for Florida's open Senate seat.
The race for Florida's U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican George LeMieux is among the most-watched races in the country this year. This race is the most expensive race in the nation, with the current candidates having both raised and spent more than candidates for any other House or Senate seat.
Two spots on Florida's November Senate ballot appear secured. On the Republican side, Marco Rubio is the presumptive nominee. Earlier this year, Rubio's commanding 20-point lead in the polls pushed current Gov. Charlie Crist into running in the Senate race as an independent. Crist, running as an independent, has regained his lead in the polls. However, the race remains tight in terms of finances: Crist's pre-primary reports show him with $12.5 million in receipts, while Rubio has raised slightly more, with $12.9 million.
The Democratic primary is pits current Rep. Kendrick Meek against real estate mogul and self-described "outsider" Jeff Greene. Meek has received significant financial support, with over $7.4 million raised this cycle, including nearly $140,000 since the Federal Election Commission's August 4 pre-primary filing deadline. But this impressive fundraising has been eclipsed by billionaire Greene, who only kicked off his campaign on April 30 and has since then rocketed to prominence and poured millions of dollars of his own money into the race. Greene's pre-primary filing showed his campaign with $14.4 in receipts (virtually all of it in loans from Greene himself), and FEC records show that he has contributed a further $8.8 million to his campaign since then. [See which industries contributed to Meek.]
Despite his sizable warchest, Greene has been polling behind Meek. An August 23 Quinnipiac poll of likely Democratic voters put Greene 10 points behind Meek, 29 to 39 percent (margin of error 3.6 percentage points). However, 28 percent of these voters were still undecided, leaving Greene with a sizable window for victory.
Among Florida's 25 congressional districts, only a handful appear likely to be in play this fall, according to election analysis organizations like the Cook Political Report and RealClearPolitics. As is the case across the United States this year, Florida's Democratic representatives face more of a threat than Republican House incumbents. Tuesday's elections will determine exactly which Republicans will challenge the Democratic incumbents in Florida's most contentious House races.
One district featuring a tough GOP primary will be the 24th District, currently represented by Democrat Suzanne Kosmas. In the Republican primary, Craig Miller, a Vietnam veteran and former CEO of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, will face off against Karen Diebel, Vice Mayor of Winter Park, Florida. With the help of his Tea Party backing and considerable self-funding, Miller has raised over $865,000, including over $500,000 of his own money. Diebel has also helped to finance her own campaign, but to a lesser degree, having contributed over $226,000 of the $686,901 her campaign has received. Whoever the nominee, Kosmas enjoys a hefty fundraising advantage going into the general election campaign, with over $1.3 million on hand of the $1.9 million she has raised. [See which industries support Kosmas.]
In Florida's Eighth District, Democratic incumbent Alan Grayson, unopposed for renomination, has raised more money than any other Florida House incumbent this year, with over $3 million. This should give him plenty of ammunition to try to ward off the challenge from the GOP primary winner. Republican voters in the Eighth District have a broad selection, as the Florida Department of Elections lists seven candidates competing in Tuesday's primary for the Republican nod. While Bruce O'Donoghue has raised the most out of all candidates in the Republican primary field, with $561,165 in receipts, attorney and conservative radio host Todd Long is a strong contender, despite his considerably smaller $257,399 in receipts. A July 28 Zogby poll showed Long leading Grayson 46 percent to 38 percent. Grayson has, however, challenged the poll as unfair and misleading. [See which industries support Grayson.]