Author Topic: Tea Party Aims at Incumbents, but Falls Short - NYSlime  (Read 124 times)

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Tea Party Aims at Incumbents, but Falls Short - NYSlime
« on: April 05, 2014, 01:12:54 AM »

WASHINGTON — Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, ought to be a prime target for a Tea Party challenge. He helped write the Senate overhaul of immigration laws that provided for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, backed President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees and expressed a willingness to raise taxes as part of a larger deal to address the nation’s fiscal health — all perilous positions in a deeply conservative state.

Yet none of the six Republicans in South Carolina’s House delegation or any statewide elected officials moved to take on Mr. Graham. So as his June primary approaches, he is using some of his $7.5 million in campaign funds to fill television screens in the state with ads as he faces a field of relative no-names.

Mr. Graham’s unexpectedly strong standing underscores a larger point: The Tea Party may be nudging Republicans to the right in Congress with the implicit threat of primary challenges, but when it comes to recruiting quality challengers to take out incumbent senators, it is falling decidedly short.

“I think Republicans are really focused on winning back the majority and people can now see 51,” Mr. Graham said of the Senate.

Mr. Graham is among eight Republican incumbent senators who faced a challenge at the start of the year. Now only one of them, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, is locked in a heated race with a challenger who has significant resources. The incumbents are not all totally safe bets yet, particularly Mr. Graham, who will face a runoff if he does not capture a majority of the primary vote. But the officials who would have been the most formidable challengers to Republican incumbents in Texas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and Tennessee stood down.

“People take a look at it and they say, ‘Is there an opportunity here or not?’   ” said Senator John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who easily defeated Representative Steve Stockman in a primary last month. “And I think most of them, the credible candidates, looked at it and said, ‘There’s not an opportunity here,’ so they decided to take a pass, which leaves it to the second- and third-tier candidates.”

The incumbents also took lessons from watching two former Senate colleagues, Robert F. Bennett of Utah and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, lose nominating contests. They have secured endorsements, stockpiled money and, in some cases, voted more conservatively. What is more, the most politically potent conservative groups are largely avoiding targeting Republican Senate incumbents — which starves the challengers of the validation and money they need.

“One of the reasons why those incumbents lost is that they didn’t take their opponents seriously,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “These guys take them seriously this time. And they should.”

The two senators up for re-election with the most money on hand at the end of last year were Republicans facing primaries, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, and Mr. Graham. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee moved to lock down the support of every major elected Republican in his state last year.

And Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, eyeing his state’s sharp turn to the right, made sure to align his votes with the fiscally conservative Club for Growth 84 percent of the time last year.

As a new generation of Republicans has moved into the Senate in the last two elections as part of a conservative backlash to Mr. Obama, its elected officials have become identified with confrontation, not compromise.

“The center of gravity has shifted,” said Senator Mike Lee, the Utah Republican who unseated Mr. Bennett in 2010.

Chris Chocola, the Club for Growth president, was even blunter about the impact of new conservative senators like Mr. Lee, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. “They’ve influenced the rest of them,” he said. “The rest of them are scared of getting beat.”

With the incumbents so awake to the threat from their right — and because at least a half-dozen Republican Senate losses in the last two general elections were owed partly to flawed candidates — Mr. Chocola’s group has backed just one challenger, Chris McDaniel, who is running against Mr. Cochran. “Candidates have to be viable, have to be able to raise money and exhibit a plausible pathway to success,” Mr. Chocola said.

Playing it safe, the Club for Growth is focusing its efforts on a handful of Senate seats where there is no incumbent Republican and on defeating a few sitting House Republicans. For its part, Americans for Prosperity, backed by the Koch brothers, is spending tens of millions of dollars attacking Democrats and is almost entirely avoiding primaries. That has left candidates such as Mr. Graham in a better position than he might have envisioned.

“The people who are declared are against me — nobody is going to put a lot of money behind them,” said Mr. Graham, who by the end of last year had raised 10 times as much as four of his opponents combined.

Mr. Roberts’s opponent in Kansas, Milton Wolf, raised just over $268,000, compared with the incumbent’s $3.29 million last year; Mr. McConnell’s $18.4 million was nearly 18 times the amount raised by his Republican opponent, Matt Bevin. And Mr. Alexander raised $5.25 million while his primary challenger, Joe Carr, recorded just over $609,000 last year. (In Mississippi, however, the money race is significantly closer: Mr. Cochran raised $1.19 million last year while Mr. McDaniel raised over $487,000.)

Many of the challengers have also created their own problems.

Mr. Wolf, a radiologist, was revealed to have a penchant for posting X-rays of his patients with gruesome injuries online. Mr. Bevin, who is lashing out at Mr. McConnell for supporting the 2008 bank bailout, sent a letter in his capacity as head of an investment fund praising the bill. Mr. Carr has drawn little attention except for when he asserted that the United States invaded Iraq before Afghanistan.

Even Mr. McDaniel, seen as the most formidable of the Republicans challenging incumbents, has stumbled, expressing uncertainty over how he would have voted on federal aid after Hurricane Katrina and asserting that the military was only a small part of the country’s budget.

Mr. Graham was particularly adroit in limiting competition.

“He campaigned for them, he raised money for them and he’s available to them 24/7,” Katon Dawson, a former state party chairman and supporter of Mr. Graham, said of the senator’s might-have-been challengers. “Politicians remember that. One thing about politicians: They remember who their friends are.”
Frank J. Fleming ‏@IMAO_

You voted to burn down the GOP. Mission Accomplished. Stop pretending you were voting to stop Hillary.

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