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Focus is on Florida and Arizona as Primary Season Nears End

Image: Charlie Crist

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, right, speaks to the media after early voting, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Crist is running against former Florida Sen. Nan Rich, for the Democratic nomination for governor. Chris O'Meara / AP

It’s the next-to-last primary day of the midterm cycle, with Arizona, Florida, and Vermont holding their nominating contests, as well as with Oklahoma deciding its runoffs. And our focus today is on the two states with gubernatorial elections -- Arizona and Florida. Arizona is worth watching because Democrats have a real shot in the general election to succeed term-limited Jan Brewer, especially if Republicans nominate anyone too conservative. (On paper, the most-electable Republican is Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, but it’s possible he finishes third tonight.) We’ve seen this movie before: A state with one-party control goes either too far to the right or left, giving the opposition party a chance at victory (with the help of demographic changes). The Republicans running for AZ GOV include state Treasurer Doug Ducey (the favorite), Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Mesa Mayor Smith, and former California Congressman Frank Riggs. The winner will face Democrat Fred Duval, a former Board of Regents chair. Meanwhile, the gubernatorial primary in Florida won’t be as competitive or uncertain: Incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R) is a lock for the GOP nomination, and ditto Charlie Crist (D) on the Dem side. But as Hotline noted yesterday, it’s striking how easily Crist is coasting to his primary victory, given that past party-switchers (think Arlen Specter) have lost. As for the Crist-vs.-Scott general election, Crist still might win. But it’s striking how Scott -- thanks to his millions -- has fought his way back into a 50%-50% race. Scott has truly run a Big 10-like campaign: three yards and a cloud of dust. He’s had no MAJOR hit on Crist, just a lot of little ones. Crist’s campaign, after a shaky start, is also starting to look like a sharper organization, particularly on the ground. This is a dogfight.

Breaking down tonight’s House primaries and runoffs

We’re also watching House primaries, especially in Arizona. Republicans will decide on their nominee to face vulnerable Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) -- either House Speaker Andy Tobin, state Rep. Adam Kwasman (who mistook YMCA campers for unaccompanied minors crossing the border, or businessman Gary Kiehne. Also fighting to take on Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in November are former NFL and Arizona State QB Andrew Walter and retired Air Force officer Wendy Rogers. Roll Call breaks down the other House primaries/runoffs on tonight’s schedule. “In Oklahoma’s 5th District, former state Sen. Steve Russell and State Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas face off to replace GOP Rep. James Lankford… Russell edged Douglas [in the June primary], 27 percent to 24 percent — a margin of less than 1,000 votes.” More Roll Call: “Back in Arizona, Democrats anticipated a brawl in the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor. Former state Rep. Ruben Gallego and former Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox did not disappoint. A longtime local official, Wilcox has decades’ worth of name recognition, the backing of EMILY’s List and Pastor’s endorsement. But the betting money is on Gallego’s better-organized effort.”

Bet on dismal turnout in Arizona and Florida

A final thought on the primaries in Arizona and Florida: The practice of these two states holding primaries in late August -- when many of the elderly “snowbird” residents and voters aren’t there -- is a recipe for dismal turnout. You’re keeping folks AWAY from the polls when you hold primaries in August, especially when the temperatures near or exceed 100 degrees. Come on Sunbelt states, hold primaries at more reasonable times.

US surveillance planes fly over Syria 2:22

The Sound of Silence on Syria

Yesterday, we wrote that U.S. military action in Syria isn’t an IF -- but instead WHEN and HOW. Well, check out this headline: “Obama Approves Air Surveillance of ISIS in Syria.” Yet maybe more importantly, it’s notable how quiet many politicians have become on Syria, especially politicians on the ballot this year. Yes, New Mexico Senate candidate Allen Weh (R) is running a web video that includes a clip of the ISIS terrorist who killed journalist James Foley. But Syria isn’t popping up as a hot topic on the campaign trail. In addition, the Wall Street Journal’s Jerry Seib notes the complicated partisan divide on intervention. “Republican lawmakers, who tend to be more interventionist on foreign policy than their Democratic counterparts, are far more vocal in calling on President Barack Obama to get more involved militarily in stopping the advances of the Islamic State, not just in Iraq but in neighboring Syria as well.” But: “That divide isn’t as neat and clean as it once might have been, though, because of the growth in the band of more libertarian Republicans who are deviating from their party’s traditional inclination toward intervention and questioning the need for American involvement in trouble spots around the globe.”

Obama to address American Legion in North Carolina

At noon ET, President Obama will speak at the American Legion’s national convention in Charlotte, NC, where he will talk about the steps taken to provide better care at the nation’s VA hospitals. Per the White House, as NBC’s Kristen Welker reports: “The president will announce a series of new executive actions to serve the military community, including new efforts to strengthen service members' access to mental health care, improve the transition between DoD and VA care for those leaving military service, and improve economic opportunity for our military families with new private-sector commitments that will make it easier to obtain mortgage interest rate reductions and reduced monthly payments - helping more of our troops save money through lower monthly payments.” Of course, because it’s election season, there’s a tremendous amount of focus on whether vulnerable Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) shares the stage with Obama. But folks, does it matter if she shares the stage with him -- or appears separately? Talk about a silly political parlor game.

70 races in 70 days

Alaska Senate It’s 70 days until Election Day. And with that milestone, we are unveiling our brief profiles of the most competitive races this midterm season. Call it “70 races in 70 days.” First on the list, alphabetically, is Alaska Senate. The contest between Sen. Mark Begich (D) and former Bush administration official Dan Sullivan (R) could very well be the most unpredictable Senate race of the cycle. On the one hand, Begich has run a strong race (see this ad as an example), and he has seized upon the fact that Sullivan, who served as the state’s Natural Resources commissioner, isn't an Alaska native. On the other hand, Begich barely won in 2008 (48%-47%), and Mitt Romney won the state in 2012, 55%-41%. There are two third-party candidates, so ultimate winner doesn't need to crack 50%. Given that there are fewer than 500,000 registered voters, the per-voter cost of all the TV ads airing -- especially from outside groups -- might be the most expensive we’ve ever seen. And given the 1:00 am ET poll closing time for the state, we won’t know the result until VERY late in the night. It might be the last race to call of the night.

TV ads to watch

Here are some of the new midterm ads that have popped up. In New Hampshire, Scott Brown (R) has a TV ad with a testimonial from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). And in Michigan, Gary Peters (D) is airing a bio spot emphasizing his roots in the state.