Sabato's Crystal Ball

House Primary Update

Isaac Wood, House Race Editor June 10th, 2010

Tuesday night was a big night for some key U.S. House primaries, especially on the GOP side. Read on for a summary of the results and situation in the most important districts where nominations where decided last night:

VA-02: In spite of all the talk of an anti-establishment primary season, the clear establishment candidate emerged victorious here Tuesday night. Car dealer Scott Rigell, who was endorsed by Governor Bob McDonnell among others, defeated Tea Party-endorsed Ben Loyola by a 39%-27% margin, with four other candidates splitting the remainder of the vote. Rigell was the desired candidate of the national party which now finds itself in a very competitive toss-up race against freshman Democrat Glenn Nye.

VA-05: Another Virginia race and another establishment win as state senator Robert Hurt bested a primary field of seven with nearly 50% of the vote. Despite several active Tea Party organizations which were lukewarm to Hurt and his high profile 2004 budget vote which raised taxes, no other candidate emerged as the clear anti-Hurt candidate. Looking ahead to November, Hurt must coalesce the support of the GOP primary also-rans, especially since there will be a conservative Independent on the ballot. Complicating Hurt’s task is Jim McKelvey, Tuesday’s second-place finisher with 26% of the vote, who is the last holdout in not endorsing Hurt. McKelvey shared office space with the Independent, Jeff Clark, during the primary but is so far mum about whom he will support in November. The GOP has Rep. Tom Perriello at the top of its target list and is quite pleased to get Hurt as its nominee, as he seemed to be the strongest general election candidate.

VA-11: Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly is headed for a rematch of 2008, as conservative Keith Fimian won a contentious Republican primary against more moderate Pat Herrity. Democrats think Fimian is certainly beatable once again, citing his 55%-43% loss just two year ago. The national partisan winds are blowing the opposite way this year, however, and Connolly will have a competitive contest on his hands in this bellwether district.

SD-AL: This will be the site of an intriguing November matchup as Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who is quite personally popular in the state for a Democrat, drew rising star Kristi Noem as her general election opponent. Noem has already been called “the next Sarah Palin” on more than one occasion and her folksy background as a farmer, coupled with her good looks and Palinesque hairstyle will likely inspire further comparisons. Noem impressed with her victory over two A-list opponents, capturing 42% of the vote against the sitting Secretary of State and a well-funded state legislator. The GOP hopes Noem will help blunt many of Herseth Sandlin’s advantages as a popular woman in the state, while Democrats are already wagering the Palin comparisons will be as much of a drag as they are a boost.

SC-01: How is this for a storyline? For the GOP to claim their first African-American congressman since 2003, he will first have to beat the son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a former segregationist candidate for president. Tim Scott came in first in the primary voting with 31% of the vote and will face Paul Thurmond (16%) in a runoff on June 22. Scott, who was endorsed by the key conservative group Club for Growth, is the favorite heading into the runoff. Thurmond’s defeat would underscore another trend that complements the anti-establishment narrative. If he loses, Thurmond’s name would be added to the list of sons of important politicians who have already lost primaries this year, including Pete Domenici Jr. in the New Mexico gubernatorial contest and Ethan Hastert, son of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who failed earlier this year in his attempt to capture his father’s old House seat.

SC-04: Not a single incumbent was defeated on Tuesday night, but Republican Rep. Bob Inglis took another step in that direction. Against four other Republican candidates, Inglis took just 28% of the vote and actually finished in second place, trailing Trey Gowdy who garnered 39%. Gowdy is favored in the June 22 runoff, which would make Inglis the third House incumbent defeated this year. Whoever emerges from the runoff will become the district’s congressman as the district is very heavily Republican territory.

IA-03: The NRCC knew this race would be tough. The DC-based GOP organization tasked with overseeing House contests was supporting former Iowa State University wrestling coach Jim Gibbons but worried whether he could win with enough of the vote in this seven-way primary to avoid a convention, as is Iowa’s obscure runoff custom. Instead, state senator Brad Zaun rocketed to the front of the pack, winning outright with 42% of the vote to Gibbons’ 28%, and avoiding a convention. While the NRCC did not get their favored candidate, Zaun could still mount a stiff challenge to Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell in this true battleground district.