Voters Retain Incumbents in N.C. and Ohio Primary Elections; Turn to Veteran Politician in Indiana

By Liz Sidoti and Deanna Martin | May 5, 2010 | 5:50 AM EDT
Indianapolis (AP) - Former Sen. Dan Coats, the Washington establishment's favored Republican, won the GOP nomination in Indiana's Senate race on Tuesday, beating back a challenge from one candidate supported by the tea party coalition and another who is an ex-congressman.
Voters in North Carolina and Ohio also made their choices in House and Senate primaries.
In Indiana this fall, Coats -- who was recruited by the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- will face Democrat Brad Ellsworth, whose nomination is assured. The candidates are seeking the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.
And in one notable House race in the state, 14-term Republican Rep. Dan Burton -- Indiana's longest-serving congressman -- was in a close race, trying to fend off six challengers for his 5th Congressional District seat.
Turnout was exceptionally light in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina, 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.
"We rebuilt the pyramids and recarved the Grand Canyon in our spare time," joked poll worker Dina Roberts, who saw only 147 voters in nearly 12 hours at her downtown Indianapolis polling site.
In all three states, 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.
Coats overcame spirited challenges from four, including state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a tea party favorite who was endorsed by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, and former Rep. John Hostettler, who had the support of onetime presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Coats, 66, retired from the Senate in 1998. He has worked as a lobbyist and was U.S. ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush.
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's 6th Congressional District, Republican Rep. Howard Coble, who first won his seat in 1984, is trying to fend off five opponents. And in the 8th District, first-term Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell is facing one challenger.
Also, six Democrats are competing in the Democratic primary for the chance to challenge first-term GOP Sen. Richard Burr, whose public approval numbers in North Carolina are lower than expected. Still, Burr easily won his party's nomination. With early votes in, Cal Cunningham, a former state senator who is the favored choice of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was trailing Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. A candidate will need 40 percent of the vote to avoid a two-person June 22 runoff.
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, faced 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.
Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Mike Baker in Raleigh, N.C., and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.
Former Sen. Dan Coats, the candidate of the Republican establishment, won the GOP nomination in Indiana's U.S. Senate primary on Tuesday.