Sunday, June 1, 2014 | 6:16 p.m.
Strange, unsavory twists in Mississippi's Senate Republican race are grabbing the most attention of Tuesday's primary elections in eight states.
Sen. Thad Cochran, seeking a seventh six-year term, faces state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who's backed by tea party groups.
Voters in Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota also will nominate candidates for the Nov. 4 elections.
The Mississippi Senate race initially followed familiar themes. Cochran, backed by the Republican establishment, said he consistently steers federal money to the state. McDaniel said Cochran is insufficiently conservative.
Things turned bizarre when four McDaniel supporters were charged with crimes after one of them photographed Cochran's wife in her nursing home, where she has spent 13 years, suffering dementia. Police said the four men conspired to use the images to advance allegations Cochran was having an inappropriate relationship, which the senator denies. McDaniel and others have raised questions about Cochran bringing a female Senate aide on numerous official trips overseas.
Cochran's adult children say he remains devoted to his wife. McDaniel says he had no part in the photography incident, calling it reprehensible.
Still, the matter has dominated the campaign's closing days, with each side accusing the other of underhanded politics. Whoever wins Tuesday will be favored in November in the heavily Republican state.
In Iowa, a much more competitive state, voters will pick nominees to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
Rep. Bruce Braley is unopposed for the Democrats' nod. In the feisty GOP race, state Sen. Joni Ernst faces businessman Mark Jacobs. Ernst's endorsers range from establishment Republican Mitt Romney to tea party favorite Sarah Palin. Ernst's TV ad boasting of her childhood farm chore, castrating hogs, made national waves.
In South Dakota, businessman Rick Weiland is unopposed in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. Former Gov. Mike Rounds and four others seek the GOP nomination. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard seeks another term. Former state wildfire agency head Joe Lowe and state Rep. Susan Wismer seek the Democratic nod for governor.
In Montana, Sen. John Walsh was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Democrat Max Baucus. He faces two challengers in the Democratic primary. Rep. Steve Daines and two others seek the GOP nomination.
California is holding its first gubernatorial primary under the new all-candidates system in which the top two finishers, regardless of party, face off in November. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is favored to grab one spot. Republicans include former investment banker Neel Kashkari and state legislator Tim Donnelly.
In Alabama, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley seeks a second term. Democratic candidates for his job include former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith and former baseball player Kevin Bass.
In New Mexico, five Democrats seek their party's nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
In New Jersey, former mayors Steve Lonegan and Tom MacArthur seek the GOP nod to replace retiring U.S. Rep. John Runyan. Democratic contenders include Aimee Belgard and Howard Kleinhendler.