Two fancy Republican incumbents —Sen. Lindsey Graham and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — will almost certainly win their primaries against challenges from the right on Tuesday. But in a year where Tea Party-affiliated candidates are spending money like they have a shot at some of the "establishment," everyone's still keeping an eye on both races anyway.
Cantor hopes to emerge with a strong margin of victory in Virginia, as he normally does, from Tuesday's contest. And while the campaign hasn't made any statements indicating that they have some nerves going into today, it certainly looks like Cantor's people felt this year was a bit different. National Journal reports:
Cantor has expended unusual effort (and funds) against a seemingly harmless opponent, going to the trouble of running negative TV ads and sending mailers defending his position on immigration legislation after [challenger Dave Brat] successfully directed the debate away from local jobs and toward a national issue.
Basically, his challenger has talked non-stop about Cantor's support for immigration reform as a bad thing (remember, Brat is the right of the already conservative Cantor), and the strategy is working, kind of. Cantor's lead is much smaller than it was last time, according to most polling ahead of today's votes. But Cantor still has a majority of voters on his side. For some conservatives, that doesn't really matter: if Cantor's immigration stance makes the race closer, it's still kind of a victory. That was the implication of a National Review piece on Brat, noting that "there’s no chance Cantor will do as well in Tuesday’s vote as he did two years ago."
Sen. Graham, on the other hand, has six challengers from within the party for his South Carolina primary today. Under state rules, he needs 50 percent of the vote to win the primary without a run-off two weeks from now. Since none of his challengers have really materialized as the fulcrum of anti-Graham voters, he'll probably overcome whatever intra-party opposition he faces either now or two weeks from now (he'd obviously prefer the former to the latter). As NBC News reported in April, that's actually a big turn around from the perception (although not necessarily the reality) that Graham could be one of the most vulnerable GOP senators up for re-election this cycle, because of his immigration reform support and his votes in favor of two Supreme Court justices nominated by Obama.
There are several other races to watch today, including the crowded Democratic primary for the blue seat of retiring Rep. Jim Moran, the GOP primary to determine who will challenge incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada in November, and the race to fill the open seat in 2nd Congressional District of Maine. We'll have updates here later as the results come in Tuesday evening.