WASHINGTON (AP) — Elections in Delaware, New Hampshire and New York on Tuesday are measuring the strength of the tea party movement against the Republican establishment as the primary season draws to a close.
The competition is particularly strong in Delaware and New Hampshire, where GOP senatorial nominations are the prize, and in New York, where Republicans are picking a challenger for an uphill fall campaign for governor.
Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Maryland also hold primaries Tuesday, along with the District of Columbia.
Among incumbents, veteran Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York and Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty faced particularly stiff challenges — one because of ethics charges in Congress, the other after conceding to voters he had behaved arrogantly over the past four years.
In Delaware, veteran Rep. Mike Castle, a moderate, vied with Christine O’Donnell for the nomination for a Senate seat. O’Donnell had the support of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as well as tea party activists. New Castle County Executive Chris Coons had no opposition for the Democratic nomination.
“I feel very good today, but I’m not counting on anything until the polls close tonight. There are still a lot of undecideds. I’m praying they change their minds — or make up their minds by the time they get in and push that button,” O’Donnell said Tuesday morning.
In New Hampshire, Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes was unopposed for the Senate nomination, and Republicans were settling a multi-candidate race. Former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte campaigned with the support of the party establishment and Palin, while Ovide Lamontagne claimed backing from tea party activists. Bill Binnie and Jim Bender campaigned on the strength of their records as businessmen.
In Nashua, N.H., Ayotte greeted supporters as she walked into her polling place, an elementary school on a tree-lined street. Arriving with her husband and two young children, Ayotte said hello to volunteers with signs and dismissed what appeared to be a late surge for Lamontagne, the Republicans’ 1996 nominee for governor.
“Obviously, the people of New Hampshire will decide this, but we’ve campaigned hard,” Ayotte told reporters.
In Maryland, former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich faced a primary challenge from Brian Murphy, 33, a business investor who was virtually unknown before winning Palin’s endorsement last month.
Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who ousted Ehrlich from office in 2006, faced minor opposition for the nomination to compete for a new term.
Wisconsin Republicans were choosing among three candidates to pick a challenger for Sen. Russ Feingold, and businessman Ron Johnson was widely viewed the prohibitive favorite.
In Rhode Island, Providence Mayor David Cicilline, who is openly gay, campaigned in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination to run for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Patrick Kennedy. The winner is expected to face Republican state Rep. John Loughlin in November. On Tuesday, Loughlin, who has raised about $470,000, faced Kara Russo, who has not raised any money.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was unchallenged for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Republicans were choosing between former Rep. Rick Lazio, backed by party officials, and Carl Paladino, a wealthy developer who campaigned with support from tea party activists.
So far this year, seven incumbent members of Congress — four Republicans and three Democrats — have been defeated in primaries. In addition, party-backed candidates have been defeated in Republican contests in Nevada, Colorado, South Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere.
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott in Nashua, N.H., and Kelly Daschle in Delaware contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS RI Democratic House field to four, not three)