The Last Super-Mega-Uber Tuesday of the Cycle

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WILMINGTON, Del. -- In politics, one day you're in, and the other, you're out. After Labor Day, the people who write about politics are midway through the stories they've created about the 2010 cycle. But every new primary night adds an extra twist, because analysts are self-conscious about repeating themselves and appearing to follow the herd. In order of relative national importance, pay attention to the following races:

1. DE SEN primary: Last night, the spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee sends out an e-mail pointing to the electability differential between Republican candidates. Bold move. But the NRSC is desperate. Christine O'Donnell, in their minds, simply cannot win a general election. She might be able to motivate a majority of, say, 30,000 primary voters -- that's a football stadium full of people -- but as Rep. Mike Castle has ramped up his attacks, non-Republican Delaware voters don't seem to like what they see in O'Donnell. If she wins, Castle might not endorse her. He won't endorse Democrat Chris Coons, but he might not endorse, period. 

The reason why O'Donnell has traction is ideological, pure and simple. Castle is not a conservative Republican. She is. 

Then again, Delaware is not a conservative Republican state. Democrats are prepared to spend several million dollars to elect Coons if O'Donnell defeats Castle tonight, thereby depriving Republicans of a Senate seat they should have easily been able to steal. We've been told all along that Tea Party activists are pragmatic and willing to support candidates who can win when they need to, even if they're not exact avatars of Rick Santelli or Doug Hoffmann. But this race is about ideology. (It's also, potentially, another feather in the cap of the professionally run but grassroots-driven Tea Party Express.)


2.  DC MAYORAL PRIMARY: Mayor Adrian Fenty has a pretty good record. Washington, D.C. is safer. It's weathering the recession better than people had thought. Its school chancellor, Michelle Rhee, is shaking things up.

But Fenty has not negotiated the changing political demographics of Washington, D.C. very well. Succinctly, DC will soon be more white and less black and Hispanic. And income inequality remains significant. You can predict your lifespan based on how close you are to the whiter neighborhoods accessible by the Red Line.

A lot of people who endorsed Fenty as a reformer are sitting on the sidelines this year, or have swung their support to DC Council Chairman Vince Gray, a serious progressive whose main charge is that Fenty has lost the interests of his constituents. The popularity (or lack thereof) of Rhee's education reforms is a big issue, and her fate, and potentially her grand experiment in teacher accountability, is uncertain if Gray wins. 

3. NH GOP SEN PRIMARY -- Ovide Lamontagne, a former GOP gubernatorial candidate, is surging. He won a well-timed endorsement from the state's most influential newspaper, and has a solid record of public and private accomplishments. The NRSC's hand-picked candidate, former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte, has seen her negative ratings increase over the course of the primary. Palin has endored Ayotte, but Palin is not a major factor in the Granite State. Either Ayotte or Lamontagne could beat Rep. Paul Hodes, the likely Democratic nominee, although their primary has been bruising for both parties.

4. NY 01 (R): Three Republicans with distinct political profiles are vying for the chance to take on Rep. Tim Bishop (D). The primary has been nasty, and there's a chance that all three could end up on the ballot in the fall, helping Bishop hold on to a seat that Republicans could win.

5. NY 15: Adam Clayton Powell IV is no saint, but he's giving Rep. Charles Rangel, he of the forthcoming ethics trial in the House, the primary run of his life. Rangel should win, but an upset is not a surprise. (Powell's father occupied the seat before Rangel.)  

6. NY 14: The adjacent congressional district features a hedge fund manager with interesting endorsements taking on Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents Astoria and Long Island City in Queens and parts of Manhattan. Maloney could lose because her opponent, Reshma Saujani, has a lot of money.

7. Gay rights groups will be watching to see if Providence, RI mayor David Cicilline, who is gay, wins the Democratic primary for the seat vacated by Rep. Patrick Kennedy.  

8.  Finally, Republicans in Maryland, Wisconsin, and New York will choose their gubernatorial candidate. In New York, barring an existential event, the Republican will lose the general election; in Maryland, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich's opponent in the primary was endorsed by Sarah Palin. And Sen. Russ Feingold knows that businessman Ron Johnson is likely to be his opponent in the fall; Johnson is expected to win the nomination tonight.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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