Updated at 11:20 a.m.
By Aaron Blake
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will face former GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi (R) in November after they were the top two vote-getters in Washington's primary on Tuesday.
Murray led at 46 percent in the state's non-partisan "top-two" primary, while Rossi was at 34 percent with 59 percent of precincts reporting. The Sarah Palin-endorsed candidate, former Washington Redskins player Clint Didier (R), was at 12 percent.
In early returns, six GOP candidates and five Democratic candidates were combining to split the vote about 50-50 between the two parties. With Murray and Rossi locks to make the general election, observers were looking to the turnout for each party's field of candidates for clues about what will happen in November.
Republicans will point to Murray's sub-50 percent total (if it holds) as evidence that she is in real trouble in the general election. But, at the same time, Rossi has to unite the Republican vote. Democrats saw Murray's low vote total coming and tried to get ahead of the story by putting pressure on Rossi to perform.
Either way, Murray was already pegged as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country this fall.
In other races held Tuesday, Wyoming GOP primary voters picked former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead as their nominee in the state's open governor's race, and Mead will be a heavy favorite to succeed Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D). Mead defeated Palin-backed state Auditor Rita Meyer 28.7 percent to 28.1 percent. Meyer has conceded, even though she was within the 1 percent margin for a recount.
The highly popular Freundenthal has served as governor for two terms and considered challenging state law to run for another term. Ultimately, he opted not to push forward, and Democrats were unable to recruit a top-flight candidate to replace him. Former state party chairwoman Leslie Petersen won the party's nomination Tuesday.
Another race to keep an eye on is the one for retiring Rep. Brian Baird's (D-Wash.) seat. There, state Rep. Denny Heck (D) won one of two spots in the general election and was likely to face state Rep. Jaime Herrera (R), who led a field of two other GOP candidates by double digits. Heck led Herrera, but GOP votes far exceeded Democratic votes in the swing district.
Non-competitive primaries were also held in the targeted districts of Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.). Reichert will face former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene (D), while Larsen will match up with Palin-backed Snohomish County Councilman John Koster (R).