Skip to comments.GOP senators wonder: Am I next?
Posted on 05/09/2012 2:44:28 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
Theres a new rule in American politics: Republican senators and Senate hopefuls who are too close to Washington and show streaks of moderation are toast or most certainly poised for a grilling of their lifetime.
Call it the Mike Castle rule. Or the Bob Bennett rule. Or, now, the Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) rule of politics.
Lugars Tuesday night blowout loss to Richard Mourdock is shocking to longtime fans and friends, but its hardly surprising to any student of Republican races in 2010 and 2012 and to the 13 GOP senators taking stock of what all this means for them in 2014.
Its the environment were living in right now, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Republican Conference, told POLITICO. There are lots of folks who are watching every members voting records; youre not only going to be attacked by your opponent on the Democrat side, but there are obviously Republicans out there who may not like when youve been around a few years and you got a lot of votes.
There are some notable exceptions to the Lugar rule like Republican Sens. Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Bob Corker in Tennessee, who are skating by their primaries despite having a reputation as deal makers. And Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg, a tea party favorite, may very well lose in next weeks Senate primary.
But there is no denying that any member who breaks even episodically with conservative orthodoxy could face a serious primary, like Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch; flee the Senate before a potential intraparty fight, such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe; or see their careers ended in an embarrassing loss before they even get to the general election,like Lugar, Bennett and Castle.
And that means GOP incumbents are already preparing for 2014 challenges from the right to avoid pulling a Lugar of their own. Several senators are raising more money quicker, going home more often and setting up more robust campaign infrastructures well ahead of the usual schedule.
I know well have a primary, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said of his 2014 bid for a third term.
Many of Lugars problems appear unique to his own race he hasnt lived in Indiana since 1977 and some Republicans are quick to blame his struggles to running a flat-footed campaign.
Basically, its the ABCs of politics: Stay involved; communicate with your constituents; be prepared to embrace a 21st-century campaign, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, assessing Lugars problems.
And own a house, he added.
Yet despite his local problems, Lugar also couldnt escape the reputation of being everything the tea party movement hates: a disconnected establishment Washington type known for making deals and occasionally breaking with the party.
Witnessing Lugars mistakes, Republicans are doing whatever they can to avoid appearing out of touch, stepping up their public appearances back home, rubbing elbows with local party activists, marching in parades and ramping up fundraising in the event they have to take out prospective primary challengers.
I think everybody should pay attention to that, said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), who will be up for a second term in 2014. People want to see you [back home]. I just dont think you can ever forget how important that kind of thing is.
On the fundraising front, some of those who could emerge as top targets in either primaries or general election campaigns in the next cycle have been moving behind the scenes to rack up huge bank accounts at a much faster clip than previous cycles.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) already has amassed $5.1 million in the bank, more than double his haul from a similar period six years ago. Same goes for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), whose $1 million in the bank is more than triple the amount he had through the first quarter of 2006.
Grahams $3.9 million in the bank smashes the $1.9 million in cash he had last time he was up, and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collinss $721,000 haul is more than double the amount she had at a similar point in the 2006 cycle.
But its not all about hoarding money. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who is 76, says hes traveling across all 105 counties in Kansas in advance of his 2014 bid. Chambliss has been spending virtually every weekend traversing the state and has been selling his work to cut the budget deficit even if it tramples on the GOPs anti-tax mantra.
Im not going to change my method of operation just for the sake of a primary opponent, Chambliss said. But obviously, youre cognizant of things back home.
Alexander, a longtime political figure back home, marched in the Mule Day parade in central Tennessee in March where he sported his quintessential red plaid shirt and he still travels the state playing the piano in local symphonies in Memphis, Jackson and Knoxville.
Senators who stay closely connected to people at home are senators who are usually able to be reelected, Alexander said.
Through his six terms in office, Lugar time and again has skated into office, winning every race for the past three decades with at least two-thirds support. He relied on his elder statesman status within the Hoosier State, deep knowledge on foreign policy issues and willingness to work across the aisle as his ticket to reelection time and again.
Brushing aside advice from party leaders to tear down his opponent, state treasurer Mourdock, Lugar was slow to respond to the criticism from the right, namely over his votes to confirm President Barack Obamas Supreme Court nominees, support for the Wall Street and auto bailouts, penchant for earmarking and backing of the presidents nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
And Lugar was badly bruised through weeks of bad headlines over his failure to live in the Hoosier State for 35 years, instead keeping his residence in Virginia and staying in hotels when conducting official business back home.
It wasnt until late in the game when Lugar began a scorched-earth campaign to tear down Mourdock.
The story is play offense, not defense, said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who tore down his primary challenger, J.D. Hayworth, in 2010. And it aint bean bag.
For Republican leaders, the story is also about engaging voters early and often even if your race is years away.
Part of it is anticipating the challenge and getting prepared for it, both in terms of fundraising and in terms of going home and making sure your constituents know who you are and know youre up here fighting the good fight on their behalf, said John Cornyn of Texas, head of the Senate GOPs reelection efforts and a 2014 candidate himself.
McConnell the wily Republican leader and top 2014 target for Democrats is heeding such advice. A cutthroat tactician, McConnell is home virtually every weekend, tailgates at local football games, has traveled to 70 Kentucky counties in about a year and has developed deep opposition research files against his prospective opponents.
Asked if McConnell is susceptible to a tea party challenge, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) deadpanned: Probably not.
Other senators who are up for reelection are beginning to take stock in their own fates, as well.
The third longest-serving GOP senator, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who took office in 1978, said that he travels back to his state about 18 times a year. Asked if he was concerned about a primary given his ways as an earmarker and long tenure in Washington, Cochran noted hes never faced serious opposition in his time in office.
But the senator, who hasnt spent much time fundraising for himself, was coy about whether hed run in 2014: I have not made any plans one way or the other.
Thune (like David Souter) has been a great disappointment
Yesterday, some galloping fairey at The NATION was lamenting the loss of “Pragmatic” Republicans (Democrat-Voting) in the Senate.
Try, try, try to REPRESENT your State/Constituents/Country, b0z0s.
And they should.
Sure would like to see the Kentucky Gobbler put out to pasture.
For the 10% of GOP Senators that are conservative, No.
Thune has been a tall squish mostly. Wouldn’t call him a RINO but a play-it-safe type. I keep getting letters from him in the mail to donate-— fat chance.
They all need to switch to the party they have been most loyal to. Real simple. No more DNC/RNC. Should be Socialist or Conservative. Democrats in congress do not exist anymore. Republicans with power are mostly what an 80’s Democrat was, mushy. Pick a side and fight for what you believe.
After Utah Senator Bob Bennett was voted out at the convention in 2010, Orrin Hatch quickly found the conservative ‘light’ and changed his tune for 2 years. Orrin is all about the constitution and the 2nd amendment now, according to his commercials here in Utah. His time is up, hopefully we can vote Dan Liljenquist in to run the general election in November.
Silly me, I thought it had something to do with them being liberals.
Saxby Chambliss definitely needs to go.
I’m disappointed that Levin is supporting Orrin “booby” Hatch. Hatch is way past his sell-by date.
Yes, Republicans have to face a Repbulican electorate that has tired of the constant caving to Democrats on most issues.
However, there is no mention that the Democrats rule their side with threats of no reelection funding by the leadership if they stray from the party line.
Republicans fear their voter base.
Democrats fear their leadership.
The TEA PARTY LIVES!
Good point, because if they stay connected, they'll HEAR what their constituents are saying, and realize that their re-election depends on keeping the folks back home satisfied.
“I know well have a primary, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said of his 2014 bid for a third term.”
I am praying for the opportunity to vote against Chambliss in a primary.
Great summary that shows the difference between "We the people" and "We the ruling class"