- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2010

Primary voters in four states head to the polls Tuesday, with hotly contested races on tap in three of the four states.

Both the Republican and Democratic Senate primaries in Colorado have attracted national interest and some big-name endorsements, but political prognosticators will also will be watching the Georgia and Connecticut governor races for signs about voter sentiment going into November and beyond.

Former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Sarah Palin of Alaska - two of the Republican Party’s biggest stars and potential 2012 presidential rivals - have backed competing candidates in the Georgia GOP runoff for governor.

Connecticut voters will select candidates to replace retiring Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Democratic Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, with the marquee race the contest between former pro wrestling executive Linda McMahon and ex-Rep. Rob Simmons for the Republican senatorial nod.

Mr. Huckabee, who won the 2008 Georgia GOP presidential primary, has in the final days of the race endorsed former Rep. Nathan Deal. Ms. Palin is backing former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, a woman she calls a fellow “mama grizzly.” Polls show Mrs. Handel with a slim lead.

Both Mr. Huckabee and Mrs. Palin have headlined rallies for their favored candidates in the final days - Mr. Huckabee bringing in a record 1,000 supporters Saturday to Mr. Deal’s hometown of Gainesville, and Mrs. Palin taking the stage with Mrs. Handel on Monday at a packed Atlanta hotel.

Georgia GOP supporter Carolyn Meadow said Monday she and other friends of Mr. Huckabee enlisted his support late Thursday, nearly a month after the Palin endorsement.

“We felt like we had to counter her,” said Ms. Meadows. “We weren’t soliciting out-of-state help, but Mr. Huckabee is connected to Georgia and remains very popular.”

Mr. Deal also has the backing of Newt Gingrich, the former GOP House leader from Georgia and another potential 2012 presidential candidate.

Nathan Deal is everything that is important to a conservative and has all the important endorsements,” said Ms. Meadows.

The Handel campaign has characterized those endorsements - from Georgia’s statehouse to its congressional delegation - as proof Mr. Deal is part of the “good-old-boy network.”

Mrs. Handel leads 47 percent to 42 percent, according to Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. The winner faces Democratic nominee Roy Barnes, who has already served a term as governor, from 1999 to 2003.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said national party leaders take a calculated risk when playing favorites in tight state primary contests.

“Getting involved in primaries can especially be beneficial if the candidates win and will help create early enthusiasm in these areas. However, it can also hurt politically if they back the wrong candidate,” he said. “As long as outside or inside nominees can find a way to rally and connect with independent voters, then they should be able to create momentum into November.”

In Connecticut, polls say the wealthier Mrs. McMahon has opened up a double-digit lead over Mr. Simmons, who suspended his campaign in May after losing the state party endorsement to Mrs. McMahon. Investment banker Peter Schiff, the third candidate in the Republican race, is projected to win enough votes to make victory impossible for Mr. Simmons. The winner faces Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in November.

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