Reading the Primary Tea Leaves – Washington and Wyoming Edition

Washington state and Wyoming voters go to the polls today. Members of both parties are watching closely for hints at how their chances this fall will be helped or hurt.

Sen. Patty Murray faces only token Democratic opposition in her bid for a fourth six-year term. On the Republican side, Clint Didier, a former NFLer with the Washington Redskins turned farmer and Tea Party activist, once looked like the man to beat. But two-time gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi (including the 2004 heartbreak of losing the closest gubernatorial election in U.S. history to Gov. Christine Gregoire), has led consistently in the polls on the GOP side and seems likely to put Didier away. Rossi and Murray have been neck and neck in polls for weeks.

The key House district in Washington this year is the 2nd, which hugs the coast in the southern part of the state. There, Republicans are duking it out for the chance to pick up the most vulnerable Democratic seat in the state. Retiring moderate Democrat Rep. Brian Baird currently represents the district. Democrats seem to have settled on the Baird-endorsed Denny Heck, a former state House majority leader and the founder of a state government-affairs television channel.

On the Republican side you have David Castillo, backed by the small-government and Tea Party movements, including Dick Armey's FreedomWorks. Castillo is a former legislative aide and staffer in the Bush administration's Department of Veterans Affairs. His main rival is state Rep. Jamie Herrera, urged to get into the race by the national party and backed by the local business community. Herrera made her political bones working for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Spokane. If the third contender, David Hedrick, draws enough votes away from Castillo, Herrera may survive. The GOP - state and national - would likely be happy with either Castillo or Herrera.

Rep. Rick Larsen, the five-term member from the northwest corner of the state, is the second on the Republican hit list. The GOP is likely to draw its preferred candidate, Snohomish County Councilman John Koster. It would be a rematch of Koster and Larsen's close 2000 contest.

One thing to remember in Washington - the primary isn't a partisan affair. The top two finishers advance to the November general, whatever their affiliations. (California is considering a similar arrangement.) In the big races, though, all signs point to a Republican and a Democrat advancing to the final round.

In Wyoming, the only looming question is whom Republicans will pick to try to replace Dave Freudenthal, the outgoing Democratic governor.

Democrats have nominated Wyoming Democratic Party Chairwoman Leslie Petersen, who seems to be running for the good of her party once no other big names came forward. (The mood in Wyoming this year is red-hot Republican.)

There are seven candidates for the Republican nomination, but the three main contenders seem to be state Auditor Rita Meyer, whose comments about the children of illegal immigrants being deported with their parents caused a stir, state House Speaker Colin Simpson, son of former Sen. Alan Simpson, former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead, and former state Rep. Ron Micheli.