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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