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Super Runoff Tuesday — races in four states

Today is "Runoff Tuesday," so dubbed by the NBC Political Unit because none of the candidates in any of the four states holding elections got the 50 percent of the vote, as required by their states, to win their primaries outright.
Sarah Palin, Nikki Haley
S.C. gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, left, got a major boost after winning the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.Mary Ann Chastain / AP
/ Source: NBC News

Voters go to the polls Tuesday in South Carolina, North Carolina, Utah, and Mississippi. The NBC News Political Unit has dubbed the day "Runoff Tuesday," because none of the candidates involved got the 50 percent of the vote, as required by their states, to win their primaries outright.

Tuesday's headliner will be the GOP gubernatorial primary in South Carolina, where state Rep. Nikki Haley is trying to become the state's first female (and Indian-American) governor.

South Carolina has lived up to its bare-knuckles reputation. Haley has had to fend off a barrage of attacks, including allegations of infidelity and a racial slur from a state senator in her own party (who went on to say he's proud to be a redneck). She's also having her religion questioned by some evangelical Christians. Haley grew up in the Sikh religion and had a Sikh and Methodist wedding ceremony. Her Web site makes no mention of that upbringing, but highlights that she attends a Methodist Church and sits on its board.

Stories questioning her religion have been shopped by the campaign of Rep. Gresham Barrett, Haley's opponent in the runoff. Barrett has raised the most money during the runoff effort, but Haley, a protégé of Gov. Mark Sanford, has the backing of Sanford's ex-wife as well as support from conservative stars Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney.

The winner of the runoff is likely to be the conservative state's next governor, which could be a powerful position during the 2012 presidential election. Remember, no Republican has gone on to win their party's presidential nod without winning South Carolina in 30 years.

If all that's gone on in the GOP gubernatorial primary wasn't enough, there's also a Republican runoff in the open race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Henry Brown. The contest in the state's first congressional district pits Strom Thurmond's son, Paul Thurmond, against Tim Scott, the first Republican African-American state representative in South Carolina since Reconstruction. Scott has the backing of Palin, who endorsed him Saturday on her Facebook page, as well as the Club for Growth, which has given more than $50,000 to his campaign.

Republican Rep. Bob Inglis will find out his fate in South Carolina's fourth congressional district. Inglis barely qualified for the runoff. He finished second with just 27 percent in the June primary to Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor and current seventh circuit solicitor. Gowdy took 40 percent in the primary and continues to lead in the polls. If Inglis is defeated, he would be the sixth incumbent to lose this cycle.

Polls in South Carolina close at 7 p.m. ET.

In North Carolina, the race to watch is the Democratic Senate primary between Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham, a former state senator and Iraq veteran. If anyone has a slight edge, it's Marshall, who got the most votes in the May primary and was endorsed by Polls in North Carolina close at 7:30 p.m. ET.

In Utah, the winner of the GOP Senate runoff — between businessman Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee — will be the likely successor to Sen. Bob Bennett. Bennett, who has been in office since 1992, was denied a chance to be on the ballot for re-election at the party's convention.

Tea party activists — unhappy with Bennett's stance on the Troubled Asset Relief Program and his willingness to compromise on health care — were able to defeat Bennett because of the state party's arcane nominating rules. (Bennett contends that he would have won a traditional Republican primary.)

Bridgewater, who ultimately won Bennett's endorsement, leads in recent polls.

Polls in Utah close at 10 p.m. ET.

In Mississippi, while it's not likely to have an impact on the general election, two Republicans in the second congressional district are vying to face Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson. The candidates are Billy Marcy — a former Chicago police officer who won a plurality of votes in the earlier primary — and Richard Cook, a teacher who ran against Thompson in 2008 and lost handily.

Polls in Mississippi close at 8 p.m. ET.

Domenico Montanaro covers politics for NBC News.