Backed by social conservatives, Republican Gov. Fob James of Alabama struggled Tuesday night to avoid a runoff as eight states conducted primaries that could set the tone for November's elections.

On the busiest night of voting so far this year, Californians selected nominees for governor and U.S. Senate after campaigns dominated by millionaire candidates. They also settled the fate of two far-reaching ballot initiatives, one requiring unions to get members' permission to spend dues on politics, the other seeking to ban bilingual education.

The primaries in California and throughout the country also could prove critical to who controls the House next year; Republican and Democratic leaders alike were rooting for their most moderate candidates.

In Alabama, James was in a five-way Republican race as he sought the nomination for another term, and needed to get a majority of the vote to avoid a troubling runoff. With just 1 percent of the ballots counted, James was drawing 45 percent of the votes.

The darling of social conservatives, James has threatened to have the National Guard defend a courtroom display of the Ten Commandments, fought a judge's order that stopped school-led religious activities and said the Bill of Rights did not apply to his state.

Pick up 5th, His consultant