2010 Elections: Primary Season Kicks Into High Gear

The political world still awaits some of the highest profile primary battles and special elections of the season, but today's voting in Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina may provide some clues about the electoral climate.

One key factor to watch in today's primaries is how well candidates preferred by the national parties fare in an anti-Washington environment, not just by wins and losses but by the overall level of support the candidates receive from the primary electorate.

2010 Elections Map: Follow the Senate, House and Governor's Races

When Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., announced his retirement in February, he shook up the race for the U.S. Senate in the Hoosier State. National Republicans successfully recruited former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., into the contest. But he has faced steady competition from the right since declaring his candidacy.

Both former Rep. John Hostettler and state Sen. Marlin Stutzman have whipped up support among the conservative wing of the GOP. Stutzman recently won the backing of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has actively supported conservative candidates even if they are not preferred by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Coats, who has faced Democratic opposition painting him as a Washington lobbyist insider and a former Hoosier who had since moved out of state, is expected to carry the day in the GOP primary, but his margin of victory may provide an important clue about how fired up and motivated the conservative wing of the Republican Party might prove to be.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., is the presumptive Democratic nominee chosen by the Indiana Democratic Party to replace Bayh.

Democratic Turnout Will Be Scrutinized for Clues

In Ohio, the contest of note is the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. National Democrats have backed Lt. Gov Lee Fisher over his opponent, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, since the beginning of their battle early last year. Brunner has received most of her support from the liberal wing of the Democratic primary. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday showed Fisher with a commanding 20 point lead, but that belies the toll this Democratic battle may have taken on his candidacy.

As of March 31, Fisher had $906,738 cash on hand, compared to his Republican rival, Rob Portman, who has been on a glide path to his party's nomination and started April with $7.7 million in the bank. Portman is former director of the Office of Management and Budget for President George Bush.

Overall Democratic turnout will be scrutinized for any clues pointing to a lack of enthusiasm among the most loyal of primary voter partisans in a political climate with the wind in their faces.

The Tar Heel State is also home to a Democratic primary contest for the U.S. Senate. In an election year where Democrats find themselves playing far more defense than offense, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is eager to exploit a possible softness in Republican Sen. Richard Burr's polling numbers.

The committee believes Iraq war veteran and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham would prove to be the strongest general election candidate against Burr. Cunningham is in a close battle with Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. A third Democrat, Ken Lewis, is also in the contest.

If Lewis garners enough support in the primary, he may force Marshall and Cunningham into a June 22 runoff election if neither of them wins at least 40 percent of the vote.

An extended primary season is unwelcome news for national Democrats who are eager to turn their race against Burr into a competitive contest. Although President Obama won North Carolina in 2008, it is a long shot for Democrats to turn this race, in a state with a history of electing Republicans, into a possible pickup opportunity in this 2010 environment.