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What The Week's Primaries Mean For Politics


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Politics may seem broken in Washington, with Congress and the president at odds and the parties at war, both with each other and internally. Around the country, those same tensions are reflected in upcoming elections. This coming week brings primaries in Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Hawaii. And joining us to talk about how different those contests are is NPR senior Washington correspondent Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Arun.

RATH: So Ron, has there been a dominant theme in the party primaries for major offices so far this year?

ELVING: Typically you have seen challenges from hard-core conservatives, sometimes called Tea Party candidates, to established, incumbent Republicans. There's been very little action on the Democratic side. And we have generally seen the incumbent Republicans prevail, although there have been a couple of surprises. It took two rounds of voting for Thad Cochran, long, long time Mississippi Senator, to get his nomination again. And then, of course, we saw Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, defeated in his primary. And he has already stepped down as majority leader and resigned from Congress as result of that primary.

RATH: Do you think there's a chance of a surprise like that happening this week?

ELVING: A chance, yes, but we have learned never to quite exclude that possibility. At the same time, Pat Roberts in Kansas looks quite safe and ditto Lamar Alexander in Tennessee. Of course, they were both targeted and both got quite a shudder at what they saw happening in Mississippi and Virginia. But the circumstance in Kansas and Tennessee are quite different. Roberts and Alexander were up and running very early - got their support organized, made sure that they had gotten a lot of really conservative people behind them so that they didn't look too establishment.

RATH: So do you think either of those Senators faces a really serious test this week?

ELVING: There's more volatility in Kansas just because of the politics of that state and the struggles going on within the Republican Party there. But again, I think Pat Roberts got the message early enough that he's not really as vulnerable as some of these other candidates. And Lamar Alexander is a guy who's been around for a long time. And while he had some unsuccessful runs for president, he's been pretty much unbeatable in Tennessee.

RATH: There is one race for a House seat in Michigan that defies the conventional wisdom in the cycle. Can you tell us about that?

ELVING: Justin Amash is a House member and a real darling of the conservatives who consider themselves the Tea Party or who call themselves hard-core conservatives. The Club for Growth and some other maverick conservative fundraising outfits have been working for him and supporting him as an incumbent. He's had a brief time in Congress but really has established himself as an independent voice and someone who's a thorn in the side of the leadership. So they like him, whereas, at the same time, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and many other business groups have been supporting his opponent, Brian Ellis of Grand Rapids. This is a tough one to read. It is hard to get a good poll in just a congressional district, as Eric Cantor found out.

RATH: NPR senior Washington correspondent Ron Elving, thanks for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.