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Mississippi's tea party tossup headlines Tuesday primaries

Mississippi's tea party grudge match between Senator Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel is finally in voters' hands.
Chris McDaniel
Chris McDaniel, Republican candidate for Mississippi Senate, speaks with an employee of Truhitt Service Center in Union, Miss. on May 29, 2014.

Mississippi Republicans will finally get a chance to choose a Senate nominee Tuesday after a long and ugly campaign between six-term Senator Thad Cochran and conservative challenger Chris McDaniel. 

The final weeks of the race have been dominated by a bizarre scandal: the arrest of four McDaniel supporters in an alleged plot to break into a nursing home to film Cochran’s sick wife for an attack video. 

While the arrests distracted from McDaniel’s message in the home stretch, the investigation has not produced any connections to his campaign, which has strongly condemned the incident. Polls out this week show the race is as tight as can be heading into Tuesday’s vote; it’s possible a runoff will be needed if neither candidate can crack 50% of the vote.

Conservative groups, including Club For Growth, FreedomWorks, and the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, have rallied to McDaniel’s side in the Mississippi race, viewing him as their best chance to scare the GOP establishment by taking down a longtime incumbent. The tea party movement’s most high-profile race up to this this point, Matt Bevins’ campaign against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, failed spectacularly and primary challenges to Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham look unlikely to succeed.

Iowa features another competitive Senate primary between state senator Joni Ernst and businessman Mark Jacobs, who are competing for the Republican nomination. Ernst burst onto the scene with a memorable ad suggesting her work on the farm castrating hogs prepared her for a job in Washington. Another ad shows a leather-clad Ernst firing a gun while promising to “unload” on Obamacare.

Ernst’s style seems to be popular with tea party and establishment figures alike: she boasts endorsements from both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Jacobs has spent $3 million of his own money on the race and is positioning himself as a pro-business outsider but has lagged in recent polls. The winner will face Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley, who is running unopposed for the nomination and holds a modest lead in early general election polling. The open race is the result of Democratic incumbent Tom Harkin’s decision to retire. 

Other notable Tuesday races include California’s open gubernatorial primary, where Republican businessman and former Treasury official Neel Kashkari and Republican state assemblyman Tim Donnelly are up against Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who returned to office in 2011 some 28 years after previously serving as governor. New Mexico Democrats will also choose their nominee to take on Republican Governor Susana Martinez, while Alabama Democrats will pick a nominee to take on Republican governor Robert Bentley.