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Two GOP Senate Hopefuls Help Block PATRIOT Act Two GOP Senate Hopefuls Help Block PATRIOT Act

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CONGRESS

Two GOP Senate Hopefuls Help Block PATRIOT Act

In the wake of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization defeat last night, the conventional wisdom has held that it was the Tea Party freshmen who played a crucial role in preventing it from passing. But in reality, the Republican opposition was much more mainstream - and was joined by two Republicans who have their eyes on the Senate in 2012.

Both Reps. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) were among the 26 Republicans who voted against the reauthorization. Mack is seriously mulling a Senate campaign, and has been positioning himself as a center-right candidate on immigration as he prepares for a race. Nonetheless, he has a solid conservative voting record in the House - with a 100 percent ACU score in 2008.

Heller, meanwhile, is considering challenging ethically-plagued Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) in a primary - and some Republican strategists privately would prefer Heller, given his lack of personal baggage. Nevada has a libertarian streak, though, and Heller represents the huge, empty swath of territory where many of his constituents hold distinctly anti-government sentiment.

But their votes could certainly come back to haunt them in a Republican primary, especially in a state like Florida where national security issues are front and center. One of Mack's potential Senate rivals, former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, has positioned himself as a foreign policy hawk and would likely use Mack's vote against him.

And Heller's vote would give Ensign an opening to out-conservative the congressman - something that's been tough to do until now given Heller's generally conservative voting record. A prospective race that was likely to hinge on personality may well now have a major policy divide.

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), the leading Democratic Senate contender in Nevada, voted for the PATRIOT Act reauthorization.

Only eight of the 87 Republican freshmen voted, a fairly small number - and many prominent Tea Party Republicans, like Rep. Allen West (R-Fla) voted with party leadership. What's more notable is that two Republican politicians with their eye on the Senate prize don't think they will take a political hit by voting against their party's signature national security initiative.

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