Voters in North Carolina and Ohio kept their incumbents in Tuesday's primaries despite the nation's bottom-barrel support for Congress and fury at the Washington establishment.
Turnout was exceptionally light in both states, a possible indication that the anger fueling voters across the country over economic woes, persistently high unemployment and Congress itself wasn't translating into votes — and, perhaps, the limited influence of the conservatives and libertarians who make up the fledgling tea party coalition.
In both Ohio and North Carolina, candidates backed by Democratic and Republican leaders in Washington squared off against challengers drawing their support from elsewhere. While it's difficult to draw concrete conclusions about the state of the country from just a few races, the results gave some idea of whether the national parties still can influence rank-and-file supporters.
At the very least, the outcome of Tuesday's primaries — the first set of contests in the two months since Texas held its February primary — set the stage for November's congressional matchups and provided early insights about voter attitudes ahead of this fall's elections.
In one notable House race in Indiana, 14-term Republican Rep. Dan Burton — Indiana's longest-serving congressman — struggled but managed to fend off six challengers for his 5th Congressional District seat.
Elsewhere, Rep. Mark Souder easily won the GOP nomination in the 3rd District after a nasty campaign; Souder will face Democrat Tom Hayhurst in the fall.
In North Carolina, first-term Republican Sen. Richard Burr, whose public approval numbers are lower than expected, easily won his party's nomination. Democrats won't decide his general election opponent until a June 22 runoff as none of the six candidates achieved the 40 percent of the vote necessary to win outright.
The runoff will pit Secretary of State Elaine Marshall against Cal Cunningham, a former state senator who is the favored choice of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
In the 6th Congressional District, Republican Rep. Howard Coble, who first won his seat in 1984, easily beat five opponents. And in the 8th District, first-term Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell survived a primary challenge from one of his former campaign volunteers.
Nancy Shakir ran against Kissell in part because of his opposition to President Barack Obama's health care law.
North Carolina's director of the State Board of Elections projected turnout to be slightly above 2006 levels, when only 12 percent of voters cast a primary ballot. Said elections chief Gary Bartlett: "I was hoping for more."
In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a former Ohio attorney general backed by Democrats in Washington, grabbed an early comfortable lead over Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. The two are battling for the Democratic nomination to fill the Senate seat of retiring Republican George Voinovich.
The winner will face former Rep. Rob Portman, the budget director and trade representative under George W. Bush.
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