updated 6/9/2004 12:30:35 AM ET 2004-06-09T04:30:35

Former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley and three-term Rep. Jim DeMint advanced Tuesday to a runoff for the GOP nomination to seek an open Senate seat, in what is sure to be one of the fall’s most closely watched races.

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With nearly all the votes in, Beasley had 37 percent, or 107,310 votes, while DeMint had 26 percent, or 77,315 votes in the race for the seat left open by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings. Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum won the Democratic primary.

The race is for one of five Democrat-held Senate seats in the South to come open this year, all to be hotly contested with the GOP narrowly controlling the Senate 51-48.

In early returns in Montana’s primaries for an open governor’s seat, Secretary of State Bob Brown led self-declared conservative Pat Davison in the race for the GOP nomination. Republican Gov. Judy Martz chose not to seek re-election.

In Virginia, seven-term Democratic Rep. Jim Moran easily defeated a primary challenge that was driven largely by his statements about Jewish leaders’ support for the Iraq war that many saw as anti-Semitic. He won with 59 percent of the vote.

In all, seven states held primaries Tuesday, including Iowa, Maine, New Jersey and North Dakota. Most saw noncompetitive primaries, with scant or no challenges for each parties’ candidates for Congress or governor, and the real contest waiting until the fall general election.

Not in South Carolina. When Hollings announced his retirement after nearly four decades, it set off a GOP scramble. Six candidates jumped for the chance, including millionaire real estate developer Thomas Ravenel, who narrowly lost a slot in the runoff to DeMint.

In a state that has grown increasingly more Republican, the opportunity seemed clear. Beasley was the last to announce, but quickly became the front-runner. Still, opponents who helped defeat him in 1998 after one term as governor dogged his latest campaign, criticizing his efforts to lower the Confederate flag and ban video poker when he was in office.

“We started in this race last and we ended up in this race first,” Beasley said.

DeMint said: “Mission one is accomplished. We’re in the playoffs,” he said.

To avoid a runoff in two weeks, the winning candidate needed to get more than 50 percent of the primary vote.

The state’s often fractious Democrats united around Tenenbaum, who portrayed herself as an independent-minded figure and emphasized votes she has gotten from both Republicans and Democrats.

The race has drawn national attention and is sure to get more. Democratic senators are also retiring in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana.

In northern Virginia, Moran’s penchant for infuriating people spawned a vigorous challenge from Andrew Rosenberg, a lobbyist and former aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy, who said he said he got into the race because of Moran’s comments that “leaders of the Jewish community” were helping push the nation toward war in Iraq. The comments drew widespread condemnation.

In Montana, where Martz chose not to seek re-election after a single term that saw her job approval ratings never rose much above 25 percent, Davison appealed to conservatives by pledging not to raise taxes. Brown, with more than a quarter-century as a legislator, refused to do the same and warned of possible budget shortfalls: “You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep.”

With 14 percent of precincts reporting, Brown led with 35 percent of the vote to Davison’s 25 percent. The winner will go up against Democrat Brian Schweitzer, a farmer who came within 4 percentage points of defeating GOP Sen. Conrad Burns in 2000.

Elsewhere, there were no primary challengers for North Dakota GOP Gov. John Hoeven, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, and Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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