After two disappointing election cycles, Republican leaders demanded that conservative groups end their war on electable primary candidates or risk handing the Senate to the Democrats in 2014. This week, the groups delivered their reply: “Nuts!”
Activists on the right launched a volley of criticism at 2014’s first major Senate hopeful on Monday, Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV). Capito is considered a strong contender for the seat held by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), especially if he decides to retire, but her conservative detractors are demanding a purer candidate.
It’s all very reminiscent of the kind of primary fight a lot of Republicans are desperate to avoid after 2012’s Senate shellacking. But the groups who helped get candidates like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin on the ballot this year say they’re ready to fight it out with the establishment again in 2014. West Virginia is just the first battlefield of what could be many.
“Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork, and bigger government,” Club For Growth president Chris Chocola wrote in a press release. “She voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for massive expansions of government-run health insurance, giveaways to big labor, and repeatedly voted to continue funding for wasteful earmarks like an Exploratorium in San Francisco and an Aquarium in South Carolina. That’s not the formula for GOP success in U.S. Senate races.”
Chocola made clear that he would ignore Republican whining about his previous primary interventions in states like like Indiana, where Club-backed Richard Mourdock defeated incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) only to collapse in the general election. He noted that more mainstream candidates “the Republican establishment cheered” like Denny Rehberg in Montana, Rick Berg in North Dakota, and Heather Wilson in New Mexico, also lost in 2012.
The same day, Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund announced it wouldn’t endorse the “too liberal” Capito. DeMint threw his weight behind a number of candidates in the 2010 primaries that made national GOP strategists uncomfortable. While some, like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, ended up becoming stars, others, like Christine O’Donnell, were embarrassing losers who helped tarnish the party’s national brand.
The West Virginia race is exactly the kind of juicy pickup opportunity that Republicans blew in recent cycles by nominating subpar candidates. Already some in the party are feeling deja vu.
Tea Party Express has a history of upsetting the Republican establishment. The group backedO’Donnell’s Delaware Senate run in 2010 and got behind Mourdock’s primary challenge against Lugar this year. Kremer said it was “way too early to make any decisions on what races we will be involved in during the 2014 cycle,” and declined to weigh in on Capito other than to say she was “aware” Capito had launched her campaign.
Social conservatives say they’re ready to fight Republican attempts to ostracize them after the 2012 cycle as well. Over the weekend, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) became the latest top Republican to express concerns over the social issue debate, saying the GOP should “leave the issue alone” when it comes to abortion rights.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, told TPM her side isn’t going to take talk like McCain’s sitting down. If social conservatives need to fight off the Republican establishment in a brutal primary, so be it. Dannenfelser blames the problems the GOP had with its social message on fear among Republican candidates when it came to talking about abortion and other topics. Had Republicans been more proactive on social issues, they never would have been stuck “on the defensive,” she said. Dannenfelser said her group will go to war with Republicans who try to back candidates unwilling to engage on social issues.