Republicans on Tuesday will cast votes in the two states where they are most vulnerable heading into November’s elections — Georgia and Kentucky — where primaries could leave the GOP champions bruised as they prepare to face strong female Democrats.
“If the Democrats win in either Kentucky or Georgia, it will be next to impossible for Republicans to take the Senate in 2014,” said Ford O'Connell, a Republican Party strategist. “That is the bottom line.”
Arkansas, Idaho, Oregon and Pennsylvania also have primaries Tuesday that will set the lineups for a series of general election showdowns.
But it’s the two Republican-held Senate seats that are getting the most attention because of the stakes involved and the bitter turn the primaries have taken in the five-way Georgia contest, and the Kentucky battle, which pits top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell against tea party-backed Matt Bevin.
While the Kentucky primary is shaping up as formality, the Republican contest in Georgia is far less certain.
If no one wins 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, it will go to a two-candidate runoff in July.
As it stands, the battle for a spot in a runoff race has boiled down to a three-person contest of Rep. Jack Kingston, deep-pocketed businessman David Perdue and former Secretary of State Karen Handel.
That could be a bad omen for Democrats, as polls show likely Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn was performing better against Reps. Phil Gingrey or Paul C. Broun, who were seen as the most conservative candidates in the race.
But Mrs. Kingston, Mr. Perdue and Mrs. Handel have engaged in an increasingly vicious campaign, which is likely to continue for another 90 days until the July 22 runoff.
“The question will be: Will the next nine weeks be a civil period or one of scorched earth?” Mr. O'Connell said. “If it is scorched earth, then too many open wounds on the eventually GOP victory could give Nunn an opening.”