The New Hampshire, Delaware, and Wisconsin primary races tonight are almost as big of a deal as the general elections. The candidates there are operating in an environment that is as much of an ideological test as any test in November, with defined "mainstream" and "anti-establishment" picks. Who will be the more effective candidates in the general elections remains to be seen, but the trend to watch is what attracts more primary voters, especially on the Republican side.
An "outsider versus insider" mentality could have different effects in different places. The recession has not hit as hard as in New Hampshire as it has in the rest of the country. Perhaps that means underdog conservative Ovide Lamontagne will have a tougher message to sell against front-runner Kelly Ayotte, with Lamontagne's emphasis on low-spending and limited government. Then again, the national anti-government, anti-incumbant mood is probably strong enough to overcome the relatively safe feeling given off by New Hampshire's prosperity. That might not bode well for the more professional, establishment picks.
In Wisconsin, Ron Johnson is spending a fortune to beat out Dave Westlake, who has been running a campaign pretty much out of his car for over a year. Johnson, on the other hand, just got into the race three months ago. Will Westlake's political work ethic overcome Johnson's RNC and NRCC endorsements? Should someone who works out of his car actually be elected to national political office?