The NY-23 special election saw an amazing political phenomenon, with the right wing taking down a moderate Republican, as grassroots conservatives mobilize against a traditionally more cautious party establishment. So what are some other races out there?
We’re not talking about any old crowded Republican primary — for example, the fields right now in New Hampshire and Nevada are still taking shape — though of course those races could potentially become Hoffmanized down the road. We’re talking about races in which a push from the right can upset the balance of a race, pushing out an establishment-favored candidate due to insufficient conservatism.
Florida: Crist vs. Rubio
The Club For Growth, which heavily backed Hoffman, has made the Florida Senate race a new priority, endorsing the more conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio over moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, who had supported the stimulus and campaigned for it alongside President Obama. (Interestingly enough, Crist now says he didn’t endorse the stimulus, but was simply working to get the best possible deal for Florida. The Rubio camp and his backers, as you can imagine, aren’t taking that for an answer.)Utah: Incumbent GOP Sen. Bennett, And Potential Challenger TBD
Another race on the horizon, Club For Growth executive director David Keating told us, is the Republican race against GOP Sen. Robert Bennett. The Utah GOP nominations can actually be determined at the convention itself — if a candidate gets over 60% of the state delegate vote then there is no primary at all, whether it would involve a challenger or even an incumbent being shut out — and this convention and possible primary could be a heated race.
“He sponsored health care legislation that would greatly expand the role and scope of the federal government,” said Keating. “Last time I looked, he voted for every single appropriations bill that implemented the Obama budget. So on fiscal issues, he’s been pretty much a disaster.”
There had previously been a challenger in the person of state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. However, Shurtleff dropped out last week, because of a family health crisis involving his daughter. “We never met with him [Shurtleff], so I can’t say whether we ever formed any opinion about him,” said Keating. “But I’m confident that by the time this develops as a race, there’ll be several good candidates to choose from.”
California: Fiorina Vs. DeVore
The California Senate primary could be a big race, between former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and state Rep. Chuck DeVore. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has endorsed DeVore, while Fiorina has the establishment backing of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Whip Jon Kyl, and 2008 presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — but she also has another big conservative name on board, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).
Cao Off The Hook?
Interestingly, we found out that Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA), the only Republican to vote for the House Democrats’ health care bill, may be immune to the threat of a primary challenge. His district is so Democratic, and he himself faces a tough time getting re-elected, that it would be difficult for a right-wing challenger to gain any money that could be spent elsewhere.
Ohio: Ganley Courting Tea Parties Against Portman
In Ohio, former Rep. Rob Portman is the Republican favorite for this open GOP-held seat, but he faces a challenge from auto dealer Tom Ganley, who in turn is openly courting the Tea Party vote. Polls still put Portman ahead — though with very high undecideds so let’s wait and see whether anything comes of it.
Mission Already Accomplished In PennsylvaniaThe Pennsylvania Republican primary was going to be a big race, of course, with former Rep. Pat Toomey running against moderate Sen. Arlen Specter — who then switched to the Democrats this past April, and now faces a Democratic primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak. If anything, this GOP-primary-that-wasn’t was a huge warning shot about things to come, and quite possibly the Democratic primary could end up sending the same message.
Pre-Emptive Tea Partying?
There are some key dogs that haven’t barked, too, in the form of previously-moderate Republicans now behaving in a much more right-wing fashion, essentially preempting any threat from the right. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is running for President Obama’s former Senate seat, and has changed his position on carbon emission, and voted against the health care bill. He’s even been seeking Sarah Palin’s endorsement, after he’d previously badmouthed her during the 2008 election.
Another example is former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT), who is running in a crowded primary field to take on Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd. Simmons used to be much more moderate — he had a strong pro-choice record during his time in Congress, for example — but he now speaks at Tea Parties and even inserted a tea bag into his pocket Constitution!
The Maybes: Primary Campaigns Yet To Develop
There are other contested GOP primaries In, Nevada, New Hampshire and Connecticut. In Nevada, former state GOP chairwoman Sue Lowden is facing former UNLV basketball player Danny Tarkanian. In New Hampshire, former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte faces businessmen Jim Bender and William Binnie, and 1996 GOP gubernatorial nominee Ovide Lamontagne. In Connecticut, it’s a five-way race: Former Rep. Rob Simmons, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, stockbroker and financial pundit Peter Schiff, former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri. No right/middle divides have truly emerged yet in these races. But who knows, a lot can happen as the candidates set out to define themselves — and each other.