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Primaries under way in four states

From John Mercurio
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Voters are casting primary ballots Tuesday in four states -- North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine and Virginia. But most of those elections are more notable for the races they'll set up this fall.

In South Carolina, for example, Democrat Alex Sanders and Republican Lindsey Graham face clear shots in their parties' Senate primaries. But Sanders, a former College of Charleston president, and Graham, a four-term congressman, are preparing to battle this fall in the closely watched race to succeed retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond, a Republican who will be 100 years old when he retires next year.

Recent polls show Graham, who has Thurmond's support and a commanding financial edge, leading Sanders by double digits.

In Maine, Democrat Chellie Pingree, facing no Senate primary rival, has already trained her sights on Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican incumbent who won her first term with just 49 percent of the vote and has lagged in fund raising. Recent non-partisan surveys show Collins with wide leads.

Rep. John Baldacci, a Democrat, is unopposed in his party's gubernatorial contest and represents one of the party's best opportunities to take back a governor's office this year. Republicans Peter Cianchette and James Libby are competing to face Baldacci this fall. Maine Gov. Angus King, an Independent, is term-limited.

In South Carolina, seven Republicans are vying to challenge Gov. Jim Hodges, a first-term Democrat who ousted Republican Gov. David Beasley four years ago. Recent independent polls show Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler leading with former Rep. Mark Sanford and state Attorney General Charlie Condon fighting to take second place and to force Peeler into a June 25 runoff. The top two vote-getters would advance to the post-primary vote if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday.

The other four GOP gubernatorial candidates are South Carolina Secretary of State Jim Miles, attorney Ken Wingate, state Sen. Bill Branton and party activist Rebekah Sutherland.

Crowded races are also taking place to nominate candidates to succeed Baldacci in Maine and Graham in South Carolina in the closely divided House.

In South Carolina, three Republicans top a crowded field vying to succeed Graham in the state's northwest 3rd District. They are state Rep. Gresham Barrett, a Westminster furniture store owner; attorney Stan Jackson, a former city attorney; and state Rep. Jim Klauber, a financial consultant. Also running are George Ducworth, a former Thurmond aide; state Sen. Bob Waldrep, an attorney; and businessman Michael Thompson, the commodity manager of electronics for the second-largest automotive supplier in the world.

The GOP nominee will be heavily favored this fall over the lone Democrat in the race, G.L. Brightharp.

A more competitive House race is taking shape in Maine's sprawling 2nd District, where seven Democrats are running to succeed Baldacci. The top tier of Democrats includes state Senate President Michael Michaud, a paper-mill worker who has strong support from labor and anti-abortion activists; state Sen. John Nutting, a dairy farmer; state Sen. Susan Longley, the openly gay daughter of former Gov. James Longley; and former state Sen. Sean Faircloth, who carries an endorsement from writer Stephen King, who lives in Bangor.

Two Maine Republicans lead the four-way field in their House primary. They are Kevin Raye, a former chief of staff to Sen. Olympia Snowe; and former Bangor Mayor Tim Woodcock, a former chief of staff to then-Sen. William Cohen.

In North Dakota, Republicans are targeting Rep. Earl Pomeroy and are touting state Tax Commissioner Rick Clayburgh. Clayburgh hopes to follow in the footstep of Sen. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both Democrats who served as tax commissioner before winning seats in Congress.

No major races are taking place in Virginia. Less than one year after taking back the governor's office after eight years of Republican control, Virginia Democrats have decided not to challenge Sen. John Warner, the state's senior and most popular Republican officeholder.




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