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Scene Set for Kentucky, Arkansas Primaries

Bluegrass State’s 4th District Republican Contest Will Pit the Establishment Against the Tea Party

Voters go to the polls today in Arkansas and Kentucky to select their party’s nominees for Congress.

The most interesting race is in the Bluegrass State’s 4th district, where the establishment and the tea party have a lot on the line. Sen. Rand Paul (R) has endorsed one candidate, while retiring Rep. Geoff Davis (R) and former Sen. Jim Bunning (R) have endorsed another.

Also on the ballot in Kentucky is a GOP primary to pick the nominee to take on Rep. Ben Chandler (D) in the competitive 6th district. Attorney Andy Barr, the 2010 nominee, is just about certain to win that.

On tap in Arkansas are contests to determine the nominees in the open 4th district and the Democrat who will take on freshman Rep. Rick Crawford (R) in the 1st district.

There’s only one Democrat on the ballot in the state’s 2nd district, and he is likely to get crushed by freshman Rep. Tim Griffin (R) in November.

The top vote-getter in Kentucky wins the nomination outright. The cutoff to avoid a runoff in Arkansas is more than 50 percent.

If no candidate can garner more than half of the votes cast, the top two finishers will battle it out in a June 12 runoff.

Polls in Kentucky are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time. Polls in Arkansas are open 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. CDT.


1st district

Democrats in the Razorback State see the race with Crawford as their best — and probably only — chance to flip a seat in this state, which had just one Republican in the federal delegation as recently as last Congress. The Democratic primary pits frontrunner state Rep. Clark Hall against local prosecutor Scott Ellington and Arkansas State University professor Gary Latanich.

The big question local Democrats are pondering: Can Hall avoid a runoff? He has been up on television in the district with a fun, endearing biography spot, and he’s seen as having momentum on his side. But with a finicky primary electorate, insiders are split on what the outcome will be.

Still, strategists expect Ellington to come in second and Latanich to place third.

Hall, who put $50,000 of his own money into his campaign May 9, is seen as having a stronger shot at Crawford if he can avoid a runoff.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is expected to play here in the general election.

Roll Call rates the race as Leans Republican.

4th district

If you don’t know Tom Cotton’s name, you will soon. A rising GOP star, Cotton’s sparkling biography and fundraising prowess is likely to carry him to Congress.

Moved by 9/11, the Harvard Law School grad left a private firm job and joined the Army — not as a JAG officer but rather as an infantryman. He served on active duty for five years, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently a consultant at McKinsey & Co., Cotton is the favorite to win the primary.

Still, he has real competition from 2010 nominee Beth Anne Rankin, and it will be hard for him to beat her outright. Adding to the difficulty of a straight win: Another candidate, John Cowart, is also on the GOP ballot.

Whatever happens today, local strategists expect Cotton to be the GOP nominee. Even Arkansas Democrats acknowledge that Cotton, if nominated, is a very strong favorite to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Mike Ross in this strongly GOP-leaning district.

The Democrats running to succeed Ross are attorney Q. Byrum Hurst, state Sen. Gene Jeffress and businessman DC Morrison. A runoff is expected with Hurst and Jeffress the most likely candidates on the June Democratic ballot. The eventual nominee will be the underdog in November.


4th district

This one looks like it’s going to be a squeaker.

The GOP race to replace Davis has seven candidates on the ballot, but only three are real contenders: Lewis County Judge-Executive Thomas Massie, state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington and Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore. Kentucky strategists see the race coming down to the Paul-backed Massie, who has a lot of tea party support, and Webb-
Edgington, who is backed by much of the GOP establishment and has the endorsements of Bunning and Davis.

The voter universe is expected to be small with somewhere around 30,000 to 40,000 voters, so an outcome is tough to predict. But the campaigns of Massie and Webb-Edgington were bullish Monday.

Massie picked up the late endorsement of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Meanwhile, Davis has been campaigning hard for Webb-Edgington, going door-to-door to encourage voters to pick her.

Tonight’s results will be another of this cycle’s tests of tea party power.

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