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.
The state's gubernatorial primaries are closer.
In the Republican race, former Ambassador Tom Foley holds a dwindling, eight percentage point lead over Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. In the Democratic primary, businessman Ned Lamont, whose successful 2006 primary challenge drove Sen. Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic Party, is clinging to a small lead over Dan Malloy, the former mayor of Stamford and the party-backed candidate, according to the poll.
In Colorado, Senate candidate and "tea party" favorite Ken Buck has a nine percentage point lead over former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, a favorite of the state party establishment, according to a recent SurveyUSA poll. Mrs. Norton has for months tried to avoid the "Washington establishment" tag, but was joined at a fundraiser and rally Sunday by Arizona Sen. John McCain.
The Democratic primary is tighter -- and yet another contest in which an outsider could upset the established candidate. Incumbent freshman Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet has dropped into a statistical dead heat with challenger Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker.
Only in Minnesota have this week's primary contests generated little excitement. Former Sen. Mark Dayton has a double-digit lead going into the Democratic primary for governor.
Republican state Rep. Tom Emmer won the state party endorsement and also has no serious challengers Tuesday. Most polls show Mr. Dayton winning in November to become the state's first Democratic governor since 1986. There is no senatorial race this election cycle in Minnesota.
Valerie Richardson contributed to this story from Denver.
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