Tuesday's Primaries Test the Downside of Incumbency

With each successive set of primaries, the puzzle pieces are fitting together to determine how much of a liability incumbency is this year and whether the Tea Party is a formidable force in electoral politics. The fringe-right movement got its answer last week with a series of losses in several high-profile races. But today’s contests in Colorado, Connecticut, and Minnesota put to test the question of incumbency, and what it will mean in November to run as an outsider. Three races to watch:

Colorado Senate Democrats: If there’s any single race to watch, it’s Colorado’s matchup of Sen. Michael Bennet against the state’s attorney general, Andrew Romanoff. Bennet could hardly be described as a D.C. insider—he’s been in office just over a year, having filled the seat vacated by Ken Salazar when he was tapped as Interior secretary. But the race has delved into heated (and at times childish) campaign bickering, specifically over who’s more beholden to Washington. Bennet has raised about 10 times more than Romanoff, but a series of ruthless attack ads from both men alleging “insider” and “establishment” status have equalized the race with neck-and-neck polls. Add a layer of drama with competing endorsements: President Obama reached out to Bennet supporters on a “tele–town hall” last week while President Clinton has thrown his star power behind Romanoff.

Connecticut Senate Republicans: After Sen. Chris Dodd announced his retirement last fall, both parties went to work in the Nutmeg State to prove who was further outside the beltway. Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who’s the state’s attorney general, has been running unopposed and, having weathered a dustup of being accused of exaggerating his military record, will coast toward November. So look to the Republicans for the horse race. CEO politician Linda McMahon, who heads World Wrestling Entertainment, is about 25 points ahead of her two opponents, former Rep. Rob Simmons and investment banker Peter Schiff, mostly because of how she’s hammered them on being a far-left liberal and an opportunist politician, respectively. Both men tried to zing her back by replaying footage of her kicking a man in the groin to show how unpolished she is, but to no avail. Yet if she pulls in a W, besting Blumenthal in the fall will take lots more than messily executed hit jobs and ringside theatrics.

[Update: A McMahon aide writes that what we called messily excuted hit job of alerting the New York Times of Blumenthal's questionable Vietnam record was actually a "strategic decision" to "send a message to delegates that our campaign was best equipped to defeat Dick Blumenthal."]

Connecticut Gubernatorial Democrats: The return of Ned Lamont probably warrants a political profile of his own—if, that is, he wins. The former Senate candidate, who upset Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in 2006 yet fell short in the general election, is trying this time for the governor’s mansion. (Lieberman isn’t up for reelection until 2012, when, early polls show, he could be in serious trouble.) Lamont’s lead in the race has narrowed, but he still out-polls former Stamford mayor Dan Malloy 45 to 40 percent, according to a recent Qunnipiac poll. And there’s reason to believe that whoever wins the race will be the next governor; both Lamont and Malloy currently lead all Republican challengers by double digits. If Lamont does go all the way, look for the awkward call from Lieberman to congratulate his state’s new governor.