Down to the Wire: Six Primary Races to Watch

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From left: Bill Clark / Getty Images; Ed Andrieski / AP

Colorado candidates Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Jane Norton

Tuesday's elections are all about change — and may be a harbinger of just how much change voters will demand in November. What's striking is that most of Tuesday's primary contests are going right down to the wire.

The key showdowns are in Colorado, where both parties are staging competitive primary contests for a Senate seat. On the Democratic side, never elected incumbent Senator Michael Bennet, a former superintendent of Denver schools who was appointed to fill Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's term, faces an upstart challenger, former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff. The race is an unlikely toss-up. With the help of President Barack Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership, Bennet outraised Romanoff $7.7 million to $2 million — a big enough margin in most places to win. But Romanoff sold his house two weeks ago and liquidated his savings on the belief that he's surging. A Denver Post poll last week showed Romanoff leading Bennet by 3 points, though that was within the poll's margin of error. Romanoff has another important ally: former President Bill Clinton.

Colorado's Republican primary, meanwhile, is an intermountain microcosm of the civil war within the GOP elsewhere in the U.S. this year. Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton looked to win this race early on but Weld County district attorney Ken Buck had the Tea Party fall in behind him. Norton has outraised Buck by more than 2 to 1, but she spent too much on advertising early on and the two entered the final stretch virtually tied in cash. Buck has a tendency to gaffe — he urged voters to elect him because he's not the candidate in "high heels" and he was caught on tape denigrating birther Tea Partyers — but neither remark may halt his march to the nomination. Some polls had him up anywhere from 9 to 16 points in June and July; a recent poll showed Norton reclaiming the lead by 2 points, again, within the poll's margin of error.

Five other races to watch:

• The Georgia gubernatorial runoff: Do endorsements matter? Probably not. But you'd never know from this contest, which puts former Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Sarah Palin favorite, against former Representative Nathan Deal, who has Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee in his corner. The race enters the last lap essentially tied. The winner will face former Georgia governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, who is seeking his old job back.

• The Connecticut GOP Senate primary: Get ready to rumble as former World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder Linda McMahon looks to nail the GOP nomination for the Senate seat left vacant by a retiring Chris Dodd. Her rival, former Representative Rob Simmons, suspended his campaign after he lost the party's state convention balloting to McMahon by just 105 votes out of the 1,413 cast, but relaunched it at the end of July as McMahon faltered. McMahon's a virtual bottomless pit of moola — she's already spent $22 million of her own money — and Simmons has less than $500,000 left in his war chest to mount an offensive. No matter who wins the primary, they'll face an uphill battle against Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, the likely Democratic nominee, who leads McMahon by an average of 14 points.

• The Connecticut Democratic gubernatorial race: Democrats haven't had a governor in Hartford since Bill Clinton was President and they believe they have a shot this year. Greenwich millionaire (and netroots hero) Ned Lamont faces former Stamford mayor Dannel Malloy in what may be the most closely fought race of the day. Lamont ran for Senate in 2006, and though he beat Senator Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary, he lost once Lieberman ran as an independent. Back then, the hot topic was Iraq, but Connecticut is now focused on the economy.

• Colorado's gubernatorial race: Democrats coalesced early around Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper but the Republicans once again held a family feud. It's been a messy chapter. Voters will decide whether to nominate Representative Scott McInnis, who has been caught up in charges of plagiarism, or Dan Maes, an Evergreen businessman who has had to contend with campaign-finance violations. Many have called on McInnis to bow out, while few observers believe that Maes can't win statewide. Which is probably why former Representative Tom Tancredo, an anti-illegal-immigration bomb thrower (and briefly a candidate for President in 2008), announced last week that he's entering the races as a third-party candidate, which could all but deliver the governor's mansion to Hickenlooper no matter who wins the GOP nomination.

• Colorado's Third Congressional District GOP primary: Newcomer Republican Bob McConnell made enough waves in this rural Western district to get the attention of Palin, who endorsed him late July. He's a former Army Ranger who introduces himself as "Cowboy Bob." A man in sync with much of the Tea Party rhythm, he wants to investigate getting rid of the Department of Energy and National Public Radio. His rival is freshman state representative Scott Tipton, who has easily outraised McConnell while also taking up the popular call for more limited government. Whoever prevails will face a tough race against incumbent Democrat Representative John Salazar, a three-term Congressman from a political family — his brother is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — that has been ranching in the Third District for more than a century.