— TON - There was plenty happening in politics Tuesday, including the swearing in of a new senator from West Virginia, a jobless benefits extension vote, a confirmation vote for a potential Supreme Court justice, and another for the potential diretor of national intelligence.
But it's also Election Day and voters in Georgia headed to the polls to decide primary races for governor, Congress, and more.
Here are four storylines to watch as results come in:
1. The power of Sarah Palin, who has singlehandedly transformed the Republican gubernatorial race.
2. The power of the black vote, which could make up more than half of the electorate in a Georgia Democratic primary for the first time.
3. Can voting against the Obama agenda hurt conservative Democrats?
4. Do facts or emotion matter more in TV ads?
The Power of Palin
Sarah Palin is still largely only popular with one sect of the voting electorate -- conservatives. In the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, for example, her favorability ratings were just 29 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable -- with most of her support coming from Republicans and self-described conservatives.
But that popularity with her party’s base runs deep. And because of it, her endorsements -- even if only by Facebook -- have mattered in Republican primaries.
The latest example is what she's done for Karen Handel, a former secretary of state, who is running in the GOP primary for governor. Handel, like Nikki Haley from South Carolina, once trailed a male counterpart -- John Oxendine, a state insurance and fire commissioner, in this case. Handel now leads in the polls -- up seven in the most recent Mason-Dixon poll -- and is the woman to beat. Handel is the only woman, in fact, in this field.
It remains to be seen how far a Palin endorsement will go in the fall. It's likely to be somewhat analogous to what the issue of immigration was in 2006 -- salient in GOP primaries, but falling flat in a general election.
Handel may be leading, but she's not yet near the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid an Aug. 10th runoff. There are six other running in the primary, but the race for second place looks like it is coming down to Oxendine and Newt Gingrich-backed former congressman Nathan Deal. Deal resigned from Congress to run for governor as the House Ethics Committee was carrying out an investigation of him for improper use of his office.
Deal, by the way, was furious that Palin backed Handel. He issued a press release detailing what he sees as Handel's anti-conservative sins and referred to Palin as the "former" governor.
The Power of the Black Vote
The black vote is crucial in Georgia. Because of it, Barack Obama only lost the traditionally GOP state by five percentage points.
Some analysts believe African Americans could make up more than half of the Democratic primary for the first time. That is already having an impact on the governor's race, a competitive congressional primary, and even the attorney general's race.
In the governor's race, former Gov. Roy Barnes is looking to get his old job back. His main competition is Thurbert Baker, who would be the state's first black governor if wins.
Barnes has rounded up a slew of prominent African-American endorsements -- from local pastors, former civil rights icons, and others.
Baker, however, is touting the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton. But that appears to be more about payback. Baker supported Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential bid. (Remember, Clinton also bucked the White House to back former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who also endorsed Clinton in '08). Barnes, by the way, backed John Edwards.
Both are probably regretting not having backed then-candidate Barack Obama now.
Can Voting Against Obama hurt a Blue Dog?
Conservative candidates nationwide have been running against President Obama -- sometimes to the point of ignoring their Democratic opponent.
But the race for the Democratic nomination in Georgia’s 12th congressional district could be a measure of whether voting against the president's agenda can hurt a conservative Democrat.
John Barrow first won election in this heavily African-American swing district in 2004 with just 52 percent of the vote. In 2006, a Democratic wave year, his reelection was even closer.
But by 2008, buoyed by President Obama's support among African Americans in Georgia, Barrow, a Blue Dog with a more conservative than liberal voting record, had his strongest showing, beating his Republican opponent 66%-34%.
The district is 44 percent black overall and that number is likely much higher in the Democratic primary. The primary is a rematch from 2008 with Regina Thomas, an African-American former state senator, hitting Barrow hard for his vote against health care, in particular.
Barrow handily defeated Thomas in 2008 by 52 points (76%-24%). But he's taking no chances this time around. He has spent more than $713,000 so far, as compared to Thomas' $36,000, according to their campaign finance filings. http://fec.gov/DisclosureSearch/HSProcessCandList.do?category=disH&stateName=GA&congressId=12&election_yr=2010
Despite that money advantage, Georgia political watchers are not writing off Thomas.
Fact vs. Emotion
An attorney general's race doesn't usually make headlines. But that changed last week when Democratic state Rep. Rob Teilhet began airing what may be the most controversial and emotional television ad this cycle.
In that ad, a mother whose son was shot by police accuses candidate and prosecutor Ken Hodges (D) of not getting an indictment on the officer, because he "forgot to swear him in, tried to hide the video and then refused to reopen the case. I could never get an answer why."
The teary-eyed mom concludes, "Mr. Hodges should not be our next attorney general."
The ad has caused a shake-up in the race for the first open seat for attorney general in the state in 60 years -- and has ignited racial tensions. Both Teilhet and Hodges are white; the mother is black. Race was a major issue when this trial was going on, and some observers see Teilhet as trying to make a play for the black vote with this ad.
But Hodges, who has rounded up the support of prominent African Americans, has pushed back hard. An independent fact-checker called Teilhet's claim that Hodges botched the case as "false," said that the prosecutor was not required to swear in the officer, and noted that a jury saw the video, featured in the ad, multiple times.