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Primay derby day in eight states

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June 3, 2014

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi. (AP Photo/The Clarion-Ledger, Joe Ellis)

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi.
(AP Photo/The Clarion-Ledger, Joe Ellis)

A nursing home scandal and a vow to “make ‘em squeal” in Washington are at the center of Senate Republican primaries in Mississippi and Iowa Tuesday, as voters in eight states write the next chapter in the battle to control the GOP and the Senate.

For six-term Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, it’s the race of a lifetime against conservative challenger Chris McDaniel, the faces of establishment Washington and the tea party movement that drove the GOP to the House majority in 2010. McDaniel has commanded considerable energy from Mississippi’s conservatives to counter any damage his campaign suffered when four of his supporters were arrested on charges of photographing Cochran’s bedridden wife in a bizarre plot. Cochran, meanwhile, has campaigned with Southern gentility, the GOP establishment behind him and a promise to leverage his Senate seniority for federal help for the state.

What Cochran calls a “Mississippi moment” is part of a primary derby in eight states Tuesday that will help determine whether Republicans have a credible chance of gaining the six Senate seats required to take control of the chamber from Democrats. Voters also will choose nominees in the race for the House, where Republicans have a clear advantage of staying in the majority. Gubernatorial primaries are taking place in Alabama, Iowa, New Mexico, South Dakota and California, where Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking a fourth term this fall.

Attention focused, however, on the Senate races. Tuesday’s election night map sprawls from Mississippi through California, South Dakota, Alabama, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico.

In Iowa, Republican hopeful Joni Ernst was leading in a Des Moines Register poll after gaining national notoriety from an ad in which she cites her experience on a farm and vows to “make ‘em squeal’ in Washington if elected. The poll showed her with 36 percentage points — 1 point higher than the threshold for winning the nomination outright and avoiding a state convention later this year.

Supporting her in a last-minute swing around the state was Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee. Romney did not endorse Cochran in Mississippi, which voted for former Sen. Rick Santorum in that year’s Republican presidential primaries. Santorum endorsed McDaniel in his bid to unseat Cochran.

Mississippi’s GOP showdown was thought to be close, and both sides were making 11th-hour pushes through the state.

Cochran campaigned Monday with leading figures of state’s Republican establishment and cast himself as a reliable opponent of President Barack Obama.

In an interview between stops Monday, McDaniel said he wants to “end cronyism in Washington, D.C,” and vowed to push for term limits and a constitutional balanced budget amendment.

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Associated Press writer Tom Beaumont in Iowa contributed to this report.

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