Posted: May 20, 2014 7:31 PM
Updated: May 20, 2014 7:31 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dispatched his tea party challenger with ease Tuesday night, and Democrats turned to two women, Alison Lundergan Grimes to oppose him in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn to fight for Georgia, in elections next fall with control of the Senate at stake.
Setting up a third high-profile race, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and his Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, were unopposed for their parties' nominations.
On the busiest primary night of the year to date, Democrats eyeing a return to power in the Pennsylvania state Capitol, nominated businessman Tom Wolf to oppose Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's bid for a second term.
Republican primary struggles between establishment-backed conservatives and tea party-favored rivals were a dominant feature of the evening, as they had been earlier in North Carolina and will be later in Mississippi, Kansas and Alaska. Republicans must gain six seats to win a Senate majority, and party leaders have made it a priority to avoid the presence of candidates on the ballot this fall who are seen as too conservative or unsteady or both to prevail in winnable races.
McConnell, a five-term lawmaker and the embodiment of the GOP establishment, was pulling 60 percent of the vote in Kentucky. Challenger Matt Bevin was gaining 36 percent.
For Democrats, Tuesday night was a chance to showcase challengers both of them women in the rare states where the party has hopes of picking up GOP-held seats.
Grimes, a prize Democratic recruit, was piling up 77 percent in a four-way race, winning her Kentucky primary with ease.
In Georgia, Nunn, whose father was a four-term Democratic senator from the state, easily outpaced her Democratic rivals and awaited the outcome of the GOP primary to learn her opponent for the fall.
Seven Republicans vied for that nomination, and a two-way July 22 runoff appeared a certainty. With votes counted in 29 percent of the precincts, Rep. Jack Kingston was gaining 31 percent of the vote with businessman David Perdue close behind at 29 percent. Former Secretary of State Susan Handel was running third with 18 percent.
Along with Perdue, Kingston and Handel, Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun also were on the Georgia Republican ballot, and the presence of three incumbent lawmakers in the Senate race assured a large turnover in the state's House delegation come January.