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Mississippi Senate race tops Tuesday’s 8 primaries

June 1, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bizarre Republican Senate race in Mississippi pitting a long-time incumbent against a challenger backed by the ultraconservative tea party movement is grabbing the most attention among primary elections in eight states being held on Tuesday.

Sen. Thad Cochran, seeking a seventh six-year term, faces state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who’s supported by tea party groups that advocate limited government and deep spending cuts.

The Mississippi primary offers the best remaining opportunity for a tea party challenger to oust an incumbent Republican senator. Outside of Texas, tea party insurgents have not fared well against candidates backed by the party establishment.

Voters in Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota also will nominate candidates for the Nov. 4 elections.

The Mississippi Senate race initially followed familiar themes. Cochran, backed by the Republican establishment, said he consistently steers federal money to the state. McDaniel said Cochran is insufficiently conservative.

Things turned bizarre when four McDaniel supporters were charged with crimes after one of them photographed Cochran’s wife in her nursing home, where she has spent the past 13 years, suffering from dementia. Police said the four men conspired to use the images to advance allegations Cochran was having an inappropriate relationship, which the senator denies. McDaniel and others have raised questions about Cochran bringing a female Senate aide on numerous official trips overseas.

Cochran’s adult children say he remains devoted to his wife. McDaniel says he had no part in the photography incident, calling it reprehensible.

Still, the matter has dominated the campaign’s closing days, with each side accusing the other of underhanded politics. Whoever wins Tuesday will be favored in November in the heavily Republican state.

In Iowa, a much more competitive swing state, voters will pick nominees to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

Rep. Bruce Braley is unopposed for the Democrats’ nod. In the feisty Republican race, state Sen. Joni Ernst faces businessman Mark Jacobs. Ernst’s endorsers range from establishment Republican Mitt Romney to tea party favorite Sarah Palin. Ernst’s TV ad boasting of her childhood farm chore, castrating hogs, made national waves.

Republicans consider Montana and South Dakota, both won by Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, as among their best opportunities to pick up Democratic-held Senate seats. Republicans need to win six seats in the November election to gain control of the Senate and are likely to keep their majority in the House of Representatives. Control of both chambers of Congress would enable Republicans to effectively block President Barack Obama’s agenda in the last two years of his term.

In South Dakota, businessman Rick Weiland is unopposed in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Former Gov. Mike Rounds and four others seek the Republican nomination. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard seeks another term. Former state wildfire agency head Joe Lowe and state Rep. Susan Wismer seek the Democratic nod for governor.

In Montana, Sen. John Walsh was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Democrat Max Baucus. He faces two challengers in the Democratic primary. Rep. Steve Daines and two others seek the Republican Senate nomination.

California is holding its first gubernatorial primary under the new all-candidates system in which the top two finishers, regardless of party, face off in November. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is favored to grab one spot. Republicans include former investment banker Neel Kashkari and ultraconservative state legislator Tim Donnelly.

In Alabama, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley seeks a second term. Democratic candidates for his job include former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith and former baseball player Kevin Bass.

In New Mexico, five Democrats seek their party’s nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

In New Jersey, former mayors Steve Lonegan and Tom MacArthur seek the Republican nod to replace retiring U.S. Rep. John Runyan. Democratic contenders include Aimee Belgard and Howard Kleinhendler.

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Associated Press writer Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.

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