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Previewing Next Week's Primary Battles

Image: Joni Ernst
Iowa Republican Senatorial candidate Joni Ernst talks with Brad Boustead, of Urbandale, Iowa, left, after meeting with supporters, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, in Waukee, Iowa. Some Iowa Republicans are quietly anxious that issues addressed during the U.S. Senate primary campaign will haunt the party come November, despite chipper talk that the five-way race is a healthy way to ignite the GOP. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)Charlie Neibergall / AP

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Next up on the primary calendar: The June 3 races

This Tuesday brings us another round of primaries -- in fact, there will be more states voting on June 3 than during any other primary day this year. But unlike the May 20 races (in Kentucky, Georgia, Idaho, Oregon, and Pennsylvania), Tuesday features fewer contests that truly matter. Still, here are the ones we’ll be paying close attention to:

  • Mississippi’s GOP Senate primary: This will be Tuesday’s marquee race, because it’s the latest skirmish in the GOP Establishment-vs.-Tea Party war, with Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) facing off against challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel. The race has received additional attention after supporters of McDaniel were arrested for videotaping Cochran’s bedridden wife; the McDaniel campaign has denied any association or involvement with those supporters. Still, the story has played out over the airwaves, with the Cochran campaign highlighting the arrest in a TV ad and with McDaniel up with a response calling it “outrageous.” Nevertheless, McDaniel finds himself on the defensive -- in a race where he might have held the upper hand before this arrest story broke. But none of the conservative outside groups backing McDaniel has bailed on him, and that’s important; indeed, Sarah Palin is attending a rally for him today. And then there’s the question if McDaniel DOES win: Could this turn into replay of Indiana in 2012, because Democrats have a credible candidate waiting in the wings in former Rep. Travis Childers (D-MS).
  • Iowa’s GOP Senate primary: State Sen. Joni Ernst has become the front-runner for the Republican nomination, thanks in part to provocative TV ads (here and here), but also thanks to key Republicans and outside groups rallying around her (U.S. Chamber, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, John McCain). Her top opponent is former Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs, who has opened his wallet in this campaign to air TV ads like this one hitting back at Ernst. Also in the race are former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker (backed by Rick Perry) and radio host Sam Clovis (backed by Rick Santorum and prominent Iowa social conservatives). Note: If no one crosses 35% in this field, then the nominating fight moves to a special state convention on June 14 that will consist of about 2,000 party delegates. The winner will take on Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) in the fall. Last night, the GOP candidates participated in a debate, and Ernst might have given Braley (who himself has stepped into trouble) some ammunition for the fall if she wins the GOP primary. “[Ernst] said she would have voted against the farm bill, named the Clean Water Act as one of the most damaging laws for business and embraced private accounts for young workers paying into Social Security… Ernst said she would vote for a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage if it came up, spoke out against ‘amnesty’ in immigration reform and suggested that the federal government should not set a minimum wage,” Politico writes. Also, there was a question about the tragedy in Santa Barbara and whether her provocative “shooting” TV ad was in bad taste. In her answer, she referred to the shooting once as an “unfortunate tragedy” but she called it an “unfortunate accident” the second time -- and the Braley folks have JUMPED all over that last answer.
  • California’s “very weird governor’s race”: Polls show that incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown is cruising to re-election, but there’s a colorful (and crowded) field for the right to challenge him in November under California’s top-two primary system (where the top-two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the general election). The field includes two Republicans -- former Bush Treasury official Neel Kashkari, who helped manage the TARP bailout, and Tea Party state Rep. Tim Donnelly. Also running is anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. The San Jose Mercury News has called this “California’s very weird governor’s race.” While Brown is the runaway favorite, who wins the right to challenge him in November is important for the Republican Party. Having the VERY conservative Donnelly at the top of the ticket could be problematic for the Republicans running for Congress.
  • The others: Due to its top-two primary system, California several great congressional primaries -- including the expensive CA-33 race to succeed Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA); Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-CA) primary fight against fellow Democrat Ro Khanna; and the field to replace retiring Rep. George Miller (D-CA). Also, there’s a crowded GOP field in the race for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA), and with six candidates in the field, it’s possible that no one crosses the 35% threshold. And in Montana, appointed Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) is getting a primary from former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger. But even if he wins, Walsh would face a steep climb to hold on to this Senate seat in a general election against Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT).

Shinseki gives speech in DC, does NOT resign

Moving from the primary fight to the main political story right now in Washington, embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki this morning addressed the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference in DC. And here was the headline from the speech: He didn’t resign. Still, he has a meeting with President Obama at 10:15 ET this morning to discuss his internal review, and this could EASILY be a setting where the president asks for and accepts his resignation. But if it doesn’t happen today, here’s why: Because it’s unclear if the White House has found his successor. Remember, the hire matters more than the fire (or the resignation). We wrote yesterday that the question isn’t IF Shinseki is going to resign -- it’s WHEN and WHO succeeds him. Yet for the “when,” we’re just not sure it happens today because the “who” hasn’t been found. And not only has the White House struggled to find a good permanent replacement, they don’t have a good idea on who would be the “acting” if they decide to fire him today.

The clearest sign yet Hillary is planning to run in 2016

Politico’s Maggie Haberman got her hands on a chapter of Hillary Clinton’s upcoming book -- a detailed account of the attack in Benghazi -- and (to us) it’s the clearest sign she’s planning to run for the White House in 2016. “‘Those who exploit this tragedy over and over as a political tool minimize the sacrifice of those who served our country,’ Clinton writes in the gripping chapter, ‘Benghazi: Under Attack.’ Casting doubt on the motivations of congressional Republicans who have continued to investigate the attacks, including with an upcoming House select committee, Clinton continues: ‘I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans. It’s just plain wrong, and it’s unworthy of our great country. Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me.’” Bottom line: When it comes to Benghazi, Team Clinton has decided to deal with it now -- with the hope that they can say, “We’ve answered every single question.” Indeed, guess which network Clinton will discuss her new book with on June 17? None other than Fox News. This is all about Clinton wanting to clear the decks.

And if you wanted another clear sign…

What’s more here, NBC News has obtained guidance and instructions from HillaryLand to some of its top supporters on this Benghazi chapter of her book. Per this guidance, HillaryLand 1) confirms the quotations in the Politico story; 2) says that Democratic strategist Kiki McLean is helping to deploy and prep surrogates, including former diplomats; and 3) confirms that former Obama national-security spokesman Tommy Vietor is assisting the effort.

Poll: Six in 10 say Obamacare hasn’t impacted them

Finally, the health-care law is animating both sides as general election campaigning for the 2014 midterms heats up, and the American public’s views of the new law are holding fairly steady. According to the newest tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45 percent of the public say they have an unfavorable view of the law, versus 38 percent who give it a thumbs up. That’s about steady since March. But here’s something else we noticed: Most Americans haven’t personally been affected by the law yet. Six in ten Americans say they and their families have felt no direct impact from Obamacare, versus 14% who say it’s helped them and 24% who say it’s hurt them. (As you’d expect, political party plays a role in who says what.) Something to watch heading into November – will the effect of personal experiences begin showing up more in the law’s favorability rating? Or will it stay fairly static heading into the midterms?

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