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McMahon wins Conn. Senate primary; Georgia runoff too close to call

From Steve Brusk and Paul Steinhauser, CNN
Four states were picking candidates on Tuesday for Senate and/or governor.
Four states were picking candidates on Tuesday for Senate and/or governor.
  • NEW: Tom Foley wins the Republican primary for governor in Connecticut
  • Bennet takes Democratic nomination for Senate in Colorado
  • Less than 5,000 votes between Deal, Palin-backed Handel in Georgia
  • McMahon, Malloy win in Connecticut

(CNN) -- Former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon won Connecticut's GOP Senate primary on Tuesday, setting up a general election face off against the state's attorney general.

With 58 percent of the vote in, McMahon had a 19-point lead over former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons. McMahon, along with her husband Vince, operated World Wrestling Entertainment from its startup in 1980 until last year, when she announced her candidacy.

Connecticut was one of four states holding key Senate or gubernatorial primaries Tuesday, including Georgia and Colorado, where endorsements brought pre-voting drama.

In Georgia, the runoff for the GOP gubernatorial nomination was too close to call Tuesday night. Rep. Nathan Deal was holding a 5,000 vote lead over Secretary of State Karen Handel, with 97 percent of precincts counted, according to The Associated Press. The two traded sharp barbs in the final days, each bringing in a national figure for 11th hour campaigning.

In Colorado, incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet held off a tough primary challenge for the Democratic Senate nomination, defeating former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, the AP projected.

McMahon, the winner in the GOP Connecticut race, fended off charges from her GOP opponents that she's tried to buy the election, and she's also defended herself from the steroids scandals that have rocked professional wrestling over the past two decades.

McMahon will face off in the general election against Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the presumptive Democratic Senate nominee. Blumenthal faced controversy in May, when he apologized for misstating that he served in Vietnam. Blumenthal served in the Marine reserves stateside during the Vietnam War.

The winner in November will succeed longtime Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd, who is retiring rather than run for re-election this year.

High-profile surrogates added to the drama in the primary for Georgia governor.

Sarah Palin came to Atlanta, Georgia, for a rally for Handel on Monday, with a five-for-five record in endorsing successful candidates for governor. Palin told a crowded rally "the eyes of America" were on the "epic" Georgia race.

"We are all so proud that Karen is a historic candidate. But no, I didn't endorse her just because she's a woman. She's a sister, yeah. We're endorsing her because she's the best candidate for Georgia".

Handel told the rally "this campaign is pretty simple. It's about taking our government back from the professional politicians and once again restoring it with you, the people."

Deal poked fun at the Palin event, held at a hotel in the city's toney Buckhead neighborhood. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said he noted he was "not at a four-star hotel in Buckhead" as he toured the central and southern part of the state.

Deal, who gave up his seat to run for governor, brought in some help of his own this weekend to push a message that he was the true conservative. He was endorsed last week by Mike Huckabee, who campaigned with him Sunday at a rally in Gainesville, Georgia. Huckabee told the crowd of about 700 people, Deal is a "principled conservative who doesn't have to go back to his own campaign literature to see what he's going to do."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, from the northern Atlanta suburbs, also released a web video this weekend calling Deal the "leading conservative" in the race.

In the battle of the high-powered endorsements, Deal said, "Endorsements from folks who actually know you mean a whole lot more than somebody who maybe is just passing through the state."

In Colorado, Bennet was plucked out of political obscurity early last year when Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter named him to replace Sen. Ken Salazar, who stepped down to serve as Interior Secretary in the Obama administration. Bennet was superintendent of the Denver school system at the time.

As sitting senator, Bennet had the backing and help of the national party and the White House. President Obama headlined a fundraiser for Bennet in Colorado early this year and last month he recorded a robocall and sent out an email in support of the senator.

But Romanoff had his own big-name endorsement. Earlier this summer former President Bill Clinton announced he was backing Romanoff, whom he's known since 1992. Romanoff also supported Hillary Clinton's bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton's voice appears on a robocall urging Colorado Democrats to vote for Romanoff.

With both candidates close on most of the major issues, and both running against Washington, the race focused on character and turned negative this summer, with attack ads from both campaigns.

"The Denver Post speaks out, calling Andrew Romanoff's TV attacks sleazy, misleading and below-the-belt. We don't need another politician willing to grossly distort reality," says the narrator in a recent Bennet commercial.

"Newspapers uncover the truth about Michael Bennet. Bennet worked for right-wing billionaire Phil Anschutz. In a corporate takeover they pushed companies into bankruptcy," says the announcer in a Romanoff ad.

Bennet will face off in November against either former Republican Lt. Gov. Jane Norton or Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck. Norton, who enjoys support by some establishment Republicans, was the early favorite. But surveys indicate that Buck, who is backed by many in the Tea Party movement, closed the gap.

The GOP primary made national headlines after video of Buck went viral on YouTube. In the clip, Buck jokingly told people gathered at a campaign rally that they should support him "because I don't wear high heels." Days later the Norton campaign used the video in a campaign commercial.

Also up for grabs is the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Former Rep. Scott McInnis faces off against businessman Dan Maes. The winner will face off against Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, who jumped into the race in the past two weeks as the American Constitution Party's candidate. Ritter, a Democrat, decided not to run for re-election.

Most votes cast in the Colorado primary will be by mail. Residents have been mailing in ballots over the past two weeks, with all votes needed to be cast by Tuesday evening. State election officials say the competitive contests could produce a much larger than usual primary turnout.

AP projects Dan Malloy the winner in the Connecticut Democratic primary for governor, beating Ned Lamont. With 58 percent of the vote in, AP shows Malloy with a 58-42 percent lead. AP projects Tom Foley the winner of the Republican primary for governor in Connecticut, holding off a late charge from Michael Fedele.

A intra-battle battle for the gubernatorial nomination also dominated primary day in Minnesota. Three candidates are competing for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nomination. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher has the party backing but is battling former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and former State Rep. Matt Entezna.

The winner of the primary battle will take on the likely Republican candidate, State Rep. Tom Emmer, and the winner of the Independence Party primary in the race to succeed Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty chose not to run for a third time while he positions himself for a potential Republican presidential bid.