New Jersey Sen. Robert Toricelli is fighting for his political life in Tuesday's New Jersey primary and isn't shy about making his integrity a campaign issue despite a Justice Department investigation into his 1996 campaign finances.
The contest is likely the most significant in the seven state primaries on tap. Voters in Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota also will be selecting candidates for the November general election.
Toricelli, a Democrat who is running unopposed in the primary, points to the decision by federal investigators to close their inquiry in January without an indictment after seven donors were convicted of illegally funneling cash into Torricelli's 1996 campaign.
There are three Republicans fighting for the chance to oppose Torricelli in November: businessman Doug Forrester and state Sens. Diane Allen of Burlington and John Matheussen of Gloucester.
One of Forrester's mailers decries Torricelli's "sad history of ethical lapses, scandal and blatant campaign finance violations."
"If they (Republicans) want to base their campaign on a closed investigation, and allow me to dominate the entire discussion about prescription drugs, the quality of education in New Jersey and environmental progress -- that's a good debate," Torricelli said in a recent campaign appearance.
"My sense is that's not a political problem. It's a political opportunity. If they're focusing their entire campaign on a thorough investigation that ended without finding any violation of the smallest regulation, my campaign is going to be about the people of New Jersey. That contrast will, I think, speak volumes."
For his part, the incumbent has raised millions in campaign funds from around the country, hosting 58 fundraising events in the last month, including one that raised around $3 million Friday night headlined by former President Bill Clinton.
Forrester has poured about $3.1 million of his own money into the contest; Allen, about $500,000. Matheussen has a lone billboard on the New Jersey turnpike.
In other races:
Rep. Greg Ganske is facing a surprisingly strong challenge from political neophyte and farmer Bill Sailer in Iowa's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination. Sailer is endorsed by conservative commentator Alan Keyes, who finished third in the Iowa presidential caucuses in 2000.
Though there has been no independent polling, Republican county leaders told the Des Moines Register they are no longer confident the four-term congressman is a shoo-in for the nod, given that he has had to limit his campaigning to weekends because of the busy congressional session.
The winner will face incumbent Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin in the general election.
Four candidates are fighting to replace Ganske in Iowa's 5th Congressional District, with the nomination tantamount to election in November. The battle is among Council Bluffs businessman Jeff Ballenger, state Sens. Steve King of Kiron and John Redwine of Sioux City and House Speaker Brent Siegrist of Council Bluffs. Ballenger, who never has held elective office, has spent $381,000, twice as much as his nearest competitor, mostly on radio and television ads.
Three Republicans are fighting for the gubernatorial nomination and the right to face incumbent Democrat Tom Vilsack in the fall. Rep. Steve Sukup of Dougherty spent the last week of the campaign conducting a weeklong caravan, capped by a statewide flyaround on Sunday. Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats rode a 29-foot Winnebago around the state, eschewing a virtual approach to campaigning, and attorney Doug Gross of Des Moines hosted breakfasts and rallies from Council Bluffs to Dubuque.
In New Mexico, Republicans will try to pick the strongest candidate to face Democrat Bill Richardson, the former Clinton-administration energy secretary, in the race for governor. Richardson, who is also a former New Mexico congressman, has amassed a campaign war chest of nearly $3 million, the largest in New Mexico history.
The front-runners in the close race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination are freshman state Rep. John Sanchez and Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley. They have avoided personal attacks and focused on who can beat Richardson in the fall general election.
Republican Gov. Gary Johnson is not running again because of term limits.
In South Dakota, former Sen. Larry Pressler and Gov. Bill Janklow are seeking the Republican nomination for the state's sole representative in the U.S. House. The two lead a field of five candidates for the nomination, which includes Bert Tollefson, a former official in the Eisenhower administration.
In Alabama, Gov. Don Siegelman, who has previously served as the state's attorney general, secretary of state and lieutenant governor, is one of five candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Siegelman has raised nearly $6 million for his campaign, far more than any of his competitors, and is expected to easily win the nomination.
U.S. Rep. Bob Riley, Lt. Gov. Steve Windom and Tim James, the son of former Gov. Fob James, are seeking the Republican nomination.
Alabama voter registration officials predict less than one-third of the state's registered voters will go to the polls on Tuesday. Low voter turnout is also expected in Mississippi, in part because of congressional redistricting.
During a recent GOP debate, Taylor and Johnson chided Baucus for not doing enough for Montana agriculture and other natural resources industries.
"I hear people talk about things like the new economy and technology and tourism, and I think those are fine things, and I think we should do all that we can to enhance them, but we cannot expect those elements of our economy to replace those traditional elements of the resource industries of agriculture, mining and timber," Johnson said. "It is upon that foundation that we must rebuild the strength of this state's economy."
Taylor and Johnson have also sparred with each other -- Taylor boasts of being third-generation Montana and a rancher. Johnson says Taylor is an absentee rancher who doesn't own the cattle grazing on his land.
The Billings Gazette noted Taylor challenged Johnson to come on out to the ranch and mend a fence or shear a sheep or lasso a cow.
"We'll see who knows about agriculture and who doesn't," Taylor sniffed.
(Mike Cooper, Phil Magers and Hil Anderson contributed to this report)