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US votes in key state primaries

August 11, 2010

US voters headed to the polls in a handful of key state primaries, not quite 90 days before mid-term elections defined by a volatile anti-incumbent mood.

The votes are being closely watched by observers and candidates nationwide on how US public anger at the sour economy and Washington might affect the main contest in November.

In Colorado, the conservative Tea Party candidate Ken Buck, a prosecutor and former aide to Dick Cheney, beat the Republican pick, ex lieutenant governor Jane Norton, by winning 51 percent of the vote, the Denver Post reported.

Buck, who has brushed off recent campaign gaffes -- such as telling a supporter to vote for him because he doesn't wear high heels in a riposte to a Norton jibe on his manliness -- captured votes by casting himself as underdog.

He will now face sitting US Senator Michael Bennet, who beat off the judgment of unhappy Democratic voters by overcoming a tougher-than-expected challenge from former state legislator Andrew Romanoff, according to the Post's tally.

Bennet, with the backing of President Barack Obama and the party's leaders in Washington, was able to win a sizeable 54 percent to the 46 percent for Romanoff, who was supported by Bill Clinton.

The former president reportedly declared that Romanoff's challenge was "the best chance to hold this seat in November," when Republicans hope for big gains in the US Congress.

The race was being closely watched for signs of whether anti-incumbent sentiment would topple Bennet, but with 64 percent of the vote counted, Romanoff conceded and pledged to "do anything he can" to help his fellow Democrat, the Post reported.

In Connecticut, Republican voters anointed millionaire professional wrestling executive and political novice Linda MacMahon their champion in the race for the seat held by retiring veteran Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

The local Hartford Courant newspaper reported MacMahon easily warded off competition securing 48 percent of the vote, with three quarters of the ballots counted.

Republicans and Democrats are vying for the seat being vacated by the retiring Dodd, one of the key architects of Obama's landmark overhaul of finance industry rules.

The likely Democratic nominee, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, remains the front-runner but has run into trouble after evidence surfaced that he at times exaggerated his military service record.

McMahon is expected to mount a vigorous bid partly funded with her millionaire's fortune, but she has already faced accusations of trying to buy the primary with her wealth.

All 435 House of Representatives seats, 37 Senate slots, key governorships and state legislatures are up for grabs in the November mid-term elections, when Democrats fear a rout fueled by the poor US economy.

But some observers are also looking for hints about the 2012 White House race, including in Georgia's Republican fight for governor, which has drawn heavyweight endorsements including one from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Palin, who has not ruled out a presidential bid, endorsed Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel, as did former Massachusetts governor and possible White House candidate Mitt Romney.

But prospective Republican White House hopefuls Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, and Newt Gingrich, former US House speaker, have endorsed Handel's rival, former representative Nathan Deal.

By 10:30 pm local time (0230 GMT), the race was too close to call, with just over 3,500 votes separating the candidates and 99 percent of the vote counted, according to figures from the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper.

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