Ranking the Top 5 Senators Vulnerable in 2014 Primaries

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 2: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) listens to Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) speak during a press conference on Capitol Hill November 2, 2007 in Washington, DC. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) held the news conference to speak about pending legislation and the pending confirmation of Michael Mukasey for attorney general. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
National Journal
Julie Sobel
See more stories about...
Julie Sobel
Dec. 27, 2013, midnight

As we close out 2013, here’s a look at the sen­at­ors at risk of los­ing their primar­ies. It’s worth not­ing that it’s a re­l­at­ively rare event for sen­at­ors to fall in a primary — in 2012, only former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., lost to a primary chal­lenger, and the pre­vi­ous cycle just Sens. Robert Ben­net, R-Utah, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, did — though Murkowski came back and won reelec­tion as a write-in can­did­ate. So, keep­ing in mind that we pre­dicted in our fi­nal Hot­line Spot­light of the year that no Sen­ate in­cum­bent will lose a primary next year, here are the can­did­ates who should be most wary as we head in­to 2014.

1. Sen. Thad Co­chran, R-Miss., ap­pears to be the most in danger of fail­ing to earn re­nom­in­a­tion. His chal­lenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, has lined up a num­ber of out­side groups — Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, the Madis­on Pro­ject, Club for Growth — be­hind him. For the 76-year-old Co­chran’s part, he seemed geared up for the chal­lenge when he an­nounced he’d run again. But, to this point, Co­chran hasn’t been rais­ing money ag­gress­ively (he ended the third quarter with just over $800,000 in the bank), and he hasn’t had a com­pet­it­ive race in 30 years.

2. The only Demo­crat on our list, Sen. Bri­an Schatz of Hawaii faces a primary chal­lenge from Demo­crat­ic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who had also hoped to be ap­poin­ted to the seat at the end of last year when the late Sen. Daniel In­ouye died. An Oc­to­ber robo-poll showed the race neck and neck, as did a poll this sum­mer — and a poll from EMILY’s List (which is back­ing Hanabusa) over the sum­mer showed the con­gress­wo­man up. But Schatz also pulled ahead in fun­drais­ing dur­ing the third quarter, bring­ing in $678,000 to Hanabusa’s $441,000. Ex­pect a hard-fought race.

3. Liz Cheney, daugh­ter of former Vice Pres­id­ent Dick Cheney, is giv­ing Sen. Mi­chael En­zi, R-Wyo., the first com­pet­it­ive race of his ca­reer. And she out­raised the sen­at­or in the third quarter, bring­ing in more than $1 mil­lion to En­zi’s nearly $850,000. But En­zi’s haul was much more than the $100,000 he took in dur­ing the pre­vi­ous quarter, in­dic­at­ing he’s geared up in light of the ag­gress­ive chal­lenge. A poll re­leased this month by a su­per PAC that has been run­ning ads against Cheney showed the in­cum­bent up by a whop­ping 52 points, so Cheney will need to make up a lot of ground. Dis­trac­tions like the pub­lic fight with her sis­ter Mary Cheney over gay mar­riage do not help.

4. Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., has a num­ber of primary chal­lengers, none of whom is likely to beat him out­right. But un­der South Car­o­lina’s sys­tem, if no can­did­ate garners 50 per­cent of the vote in the primary, the top two vote-get­ters go to a run­off. And if Gra­ham’s chal­lengers man­age to keep him un­der 50 per­cent, con­ser­vat­ive sup­port could gel be­hind his op­pon­ent in the one-on-one run­off. Gra­ham was boos­ted this week by TV ads from former Arkan­sas Gov. Mike Hucka­bee, the con­ser­vat­ive stal­wart who fin­ished a close second in the state’s 2008 pres­id­en­tial primary. Mean­while, state Sen. Lee Bright, the front-run­ning Gra­ham chal­lenger, has filed a bill that wouldn’t al­low people to vote in a primary “un­less the per­son has re­gistered as be­ing a mem­ber of that party.”

5. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell is very un­pop­u­lar in Ken­tucky. And un­like the oth­er sen­at­ors on our list, he has to po­s­i­tion him­self on two fronts: a primary chal­lenge from busi­ness­man Matt Bev­in, and a real gen­er­al-elec­tion chal­lenge from Demo­crat Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes. Mc­Con­nell has a huge war chest built up — he fin­ished the third quarter with nearly $10 mil­lion in the bank — as well as a vaunted polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tion, and shouldn’t be un­der­es­tim­ated. While Bev­in has the sup­port of the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund and some abil­ity to self-fund, it’s far from clear that he has what it takes to oust the minor­ity lead­er.

Sev­er­al oth­er GOP sen­at­ors are also fa­cing primary op­pon­ents. In Kan­sas, phys­i­cian (and dis­tant cous­in of Pres­id­ent Obama) Milton Wolf is chal­len­ging Sen. Pat Roberts; in Ten­ness­ee, state Rep. Joe Carr is run­ning against Lamar Al­ex­an­der; and in Texas, Rep. Steve Stock­man is op­pos­ing Sen. John Cornyn. At this point, it doesn’t look as though any of these chal­lenges will gain the trac­tion ne­ces­sary to be­come ser­i­ous threats, al­though Wolf has the sup­port of some key con­ser­vat­ive groups that haven’t yet lined up be­hind Carr or Stock­man.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4627) }}

What We're Following See More »
AT LEAST NOT YET
Paul Ryan Can’t Get Behind Trump
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Paul Ryan told CNN today he's "not ready" to back Donald Trump at this time. "I'm not there right now," he said. Ryan said Trump needs to unify "all wings of the Republican Party and the conservative movement" and then run a campaign that will allow Americans to "have something that they're proud to support and proud to be a part of. And we've got a ways to go from here to there."

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Preet Bharara Learned at the Foot of Chuck Schumer
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin gives Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the longread treatment. The scourge of corrupt New York pols, bad actors on Wall Street, and New York gang members, Bharara learned at the foot of Chuck Schumer, the famously limelight-hogging senator whom he served as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee staff. No surprise then, that after President Obama appointed him, Bharara "brought a media-friendly approach to what has historically been a closed and guarded institution. In professional background, Bharara resembles his predecessors; in style, he’s very different. His personality reflects his dual life in New York’s political and legal firmament. A longtime prosecutor, he sometimes acts like a budding pol; his rhetoric leans more toward the wisecrack than toward the jeremiad. He expresses himself in the orderly paragraphs of a former high-school debater, but with deft comic timing and a gift for shtick."

Source:
DRUG OFFENDERS
Obama Commutes the Sentences of 58 Prisoners
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama has announced another round of commutations of prison sentences. Most of the 58 individuals named are incarcerated for possessions with intent to distribute controlled substances. The prisoners will be released between later this year and 2018.

STAFF PICKS
Trump Roadmapped His Candidacy in 2000
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Daily Beast has unearthed a piece that Donald Trump wrote for Gear magazine in 2000, which anticipates his 2016 sales pitch quite well. "Perhaps it's time for a dealmaker who can get the leaders of Congress to the table, forge consensus, and strike compromise," he writes. Oddly, he opens by defending his reputation as a womanizer: "The hypocrites argue that a man who loves and appreciates beautiful women (and does so legally and openly) shouldn't become a national leader? Is there something wrong with appreciating beautiful women? Don't we want people in public office who show signs of life?"

Source:
‘NO MORAL OR ETHICAL GROUNDING’
Sen. Murphy: Trump Shouldn’t Get Classified Briefigs
8 hours ago
THE LATEST
×