WASHINGTON (AP) — Establishment Republicans vied with challengers favored by tea party activists one last time Tuesday in a multi-state finale to a primary election season marked by economic recession and political upheaval.
Highlighted by GOP-tea party showdowns in New Hampshire and Delaware, six states chose candidates for governor and five featured contests for nominations to the Senate.
In New York, 40-year veteran Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel faced the voters for the first time since the House ethics committee accused him of 13 violations, most of them relating to his personal finances.
So far this year, seven incumbent members of Congress have tasted defeat, four Republicans and three Democrats. And that does not include a lengthy list of GOP contenders who fell to tea party-supported challengers despite having the backing of party officials eager to maximize their gains in November.
With unemployment high and President Barack Obama's popularity below 50 percent, Republicans said the primaries reflected an enthusiasm that would serve the party well in the fall, when control of Congress will be at stake.
Democrats, however, said the presence of tea party-supported Republicans would prove costly to the GOP on Nov. 2 — a proposition that remained to be tested in seven weeks' time.
In Delaware, Rep. Mike Castle sought the nomination to a Senate seat held for 36 years by Vice President Joe Biden in a primary that took a sharp turn for the negative three weeks ago when the Tea Party Express announced it would come to the aid of challenger Christine O'Donnell.
Castle, a former two-term governor and a veteran of nearly two decades in the House, was repeatedly assailed as a liberal, a Republican in name only. He and the party responded by challenging O'Donnell's fitness for public office and her ability to win a statewide election in the fall.
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While Republicans brawled, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons coasted to the Democratic nomination without opposition. Biden resigned the seat in early 2009, and his successor, Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, pledged not to run for a full term.
Republicans in New Hampshire sorted through a crowded field of candidates for the nomination to a seat long held by retiring GOP Sen. Judd Gregg.
Former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte was the party-backed favorite, and she added support from prominent conservatives who have played a heavy role in several primaries this year, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Her principal opposition came from Ovide Lamontagne, a lawyer and former head of the state board of education. He campaigned with the support of tea party activists and claimed to be the most conservative candidate in a race that also included businessmen Bill Binnie and Jim Bender.
The winner will face Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes, who is giving up his seat in the House to run for the Senate.
Republicans must gain 10 seats this fall if they are to win control of the Senate, and their chances count heavily on their ability to prevail in both Delaware and New Hampshire.
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In Wisconsin, businessman Ron Johnson faced two minor opponents for the Republican nomination to oppose three-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in November in what polls show is a tight race. Johnson has said he will spend millions of his own money to finance his campaign through Election Day.
In New York, Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo faced no opposition for the party's nomination for governor, and he will be the prohibitive favorite in the fall for an office his father held for three terms a generation ago.
Former Rep. Rick Lazio vied with political novice Carl Paladino, a wealthy developer who got tea party support, for the Republican nomination.
In Maryland, former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich sought the nomination for a rematch against the man who ousted him from office in 2006, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
There were gubernatorial nomination contests in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, where Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker collided with former Rep. Marc Neumann for the Republican line on the fall ballot. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was heavily favored for the Democratic nomination.
Rangel's principal challenger for the nomination in his Harlem-based district was Adam Clayton Powell IV, a state assemblyman whose father Rangel defeated 40 years ago. In the decades since, Rangel rose to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, with enormous power over taxes, trade, Medicare and more, but Democrats forced him to step aside from that panel while he battles ethics charges.
He is accused of accepting several New York City rent-stabilized apartments, and omitting information on his financial disclosure forms. He's also accused of failing to pay taxes from a rental property in the Dominican Republic, and improperly soliciting money for a college center to be named after him. He has vowed to fight the charges, and faces an ethics committee trial, possibly after the elections.
Rhode Island had a rare open seat in its two-member House delegation, following the decision of Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy to retire. Providence Mayor Bob Cicilline, who is openly gay, was favored over three rivals for the Democratic nomination. The winner will be a prohibitive favorite in the fall in the heavily Democratic district.
In addition to the seven state primaries, Washington, D.C., chose nominees for local office.
Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty drew a strong challenger for the nomination, and spent several weeks apologizing to voters for behaving arrogantly during four years in office.