CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Popular Gov. Joe Manchin won the Democratic nomination Saturday and will face GOP primary winner and wealthy businessman John Raese in the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by the late Robert C. Byrd.
Raese defeated a crowded field of Republicans and becomes part of the GOP quest to dismantle the Democratic Senate majority as high unemployment and the slow economic recovery take a toll on their political prospects this fall.
In Louisiana, scandal-tainted Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter sailed to an easy primary victory over two little-known challengers. He has already been more focused on his likely November matchup with Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, who also had two primary opponents.
Vitter survived a 2007 prostitution scandal after he admitted an unspecified "serious sin" after his phone number appeared in the records of a Washington prostitution ring. He has also shrugged off fresh questions about his judgment in allowing an aide to remain on his staff for more than two years after a violent attack on a woman police identified as his ex-girlfriend.
With little competition from his own party, he and Melancon are engaged in a war of attack ads.
The campaign manager for Vitter's best-known primary opponent, retired state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, says Republicans encouraged Traylor to get into the race because they feared another scandal was lurking. But Vitter appeared strong against him and little-known Republican Nick Accardo.
The primary in West Virginia was hastily called after Byrd, a 92-year-old Democrat elected to a record ninth term in 2006, died June 28. The state Legislature decided on a primary date about two weeks later and gave candidates just four days to register and about a month to campaign.
Manchin's support from coal and utility industries — which have provided more than a quarter of the $1.2 million he has raised since declaring his candidacy last month — may help him overcome national GOP attempts to paint him as a liberal who will side with President Barack Obama's administration.
Obama lost West Virginia in 2008, and his energy and environmental policies are deemed anti-coal in the nation's second-largest coal producing state. Democrats desperately need to hold the Senate seat in West Virginia, a state that Republican nominee John McCain won handily with 56 percent of the vote.
The 60-year-old Raese, who lost to Byrd in 2006, has been pumping money into a television and radio ad campaign to bolster his name recognition and to declare he won't be a rubber stamp for Obama's agenda.
Raese owns a steel fabricating business, a limestone company and is part owner of a statewide radio network and Morgantown newspaper. He defeated recent U.S. House candidate Mac Warner and a pool of unknowns including a cement contractor, a certified public accountant, a substitute teacher's aide, a gas company supervisor, a lawyer and a few retirees.
Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson is also vying for the seat in November.
Associated Press Writer Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.