A crowd of South Carolina Republicans jostled on Tuesday for the nomination for the seat left open by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (search) — one of five in the South that will be among the most closely watched Senate races come the fall.

In primaries elsewhere, a seven-term Democratic Virginia congressman with a history of controversies faced a contentious challenge, while Montana's open governor's seat brought a sharp philosophical fight to the state GOP.

In all, seven states held primaries Tuesday, including Iowa, Maine, New Jersey and North Dakota.

Most saw noncompetitive primaries, with scant or no challenges for each parties' candidates for Congress or governor, and the real contest waiting until the fall general election.

Not in South Carolina. When Hollings announced his retirement after nearly four decades, it set off a GOP scramble. Six candidates — including three-term Rep. Jim DeMint, former Gov. David Beasley and former Attorney General Charlie Condon — jumped for the chance.

In a state that has grown increasingly more Republican, the opportunity seemed clear. Beasley quickly became the front-runner, but opponents who helped defeat him in 1998 after one term as governor dogged his latest campaign, criticizing his efforts to lower the Confederate flag and ban video poker when he was in office.

The state's often fractious Democrats united behind Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, who portrayed herself as an independent-minded figure and emphasized votes she has gotten from both Republicans and Democrats.

The race has drawn national attention and is sure to get more, with Republicans holding a 51-48 majority in the Senate. Democratic senators are also retiring in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana.

In northern Virginia, seven-term Democratic Rep. Jim Moran's penchant for infuriating people spawned a vigorous challenge from Andrew Rosenberg, a lobbyist and former aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Rosenberg, who has raised more money than nearly any other primary challenger in the country, said he got into the race because of Moran's comments that "leaders of the Jewish community" were helping push the nation toward war in Iraq. The comments drew widespread condemnation.

Moran has a history of controversies, including taking a loan from a drug industry lobbyist, shoving a fellow congressman, and once speaking of punching President Clinton. But he was well-funded and had gotten recent support from local political leaders.

In Montana, Secretary of State Bob Brown and political newcomer Pat Davison led the pack in the race for the GOP nomination for governor. Gov. Judy Martz chose not to seek re-election after a single term that saw her widely criticized. Her job approval ratings never rose much above 25 percent.

Davison, a stockbroker, appealed to conservatives by pledging not to raise taxes and criticizing Brown for refusing to make the same promise. Brown, with more than a quarter-century as a legislator, warned of possible budget shortfalls and said: "You shouldn't make promises you can't keep."

The winner was likely to face Democrat Brian Schweitzer, a farmer who came within four percentage points of defeating GOP Sen. Conrad Burns in 2000.

Elsewhere, there were no primary challengers for North Dakota GOP Gov. John Hoeven, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, and Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.