After Liz Cheney’s Departure, Here Are Three GOP Senate Primaries That Matter

Wyoming Senate candidate Liz Cheney holds a news conference at the Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne, Wyoming on July 17, 2013. Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, will run against longtime incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY). Cheney launched her campaign yesterday following Enzi's announcement that he will run for a fourth term. 
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Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
Jan. 6, 2014, 2:28 a.m.

As Liz Cheney ap­par­ently real­ized, de­feat­ing a well-liked and deeply con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or in a Re­pub­lic­an primary is tough. At least when your own can­did­acy is rooted out-of-state and is best-known for spark­ing an ugly in­tra-fam­ily feud.

Cheney’s de­cision to quit her six-month-old cam­paign against Sen. Mi­chael En­zi in Wyom­ing, first re­por­ted by CNN late Sunday night, would ap­pear to rob the 2014 midterm of one of its show-horse races. But, in truth, des­pite the glitz of Dick Cheney’s daugh­ter run­ning for Sen­ate, her drop-out changes little. Typ­ic­ally, sen­at­ors must beat back ac­cus­a­tions of be­ing too cozy with the es­tab­lish­ment; in this case, Cheney’s lin­eage en­sured she’d be the one de­fend­ing her tea-party cred. She struggled to of­fer a ra­tionale for her cam­paign, and by most ac­counts, was poised to lose badly.

However, Cheney’s ab­sence hardly means that Re­pub­lic­ans don’t of­fer a mul­ti­tude of im­port­ant primar­ies. Here are three that will have par­tic­u­lar im­port­ance for the party as it battles for the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity.

North Car­o­lina

When: May 6

Ma­jor Can­did­ates: State House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Thom Tillis, phys­i­cian Greg Bran­non, pas­tor Mark Har­ris

Why it mat­ters: Per­haps no primary has been as act­ive as early as the Tar Heel State’s GOP con­test. Already Bran­non, backed by Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, and Har­ris are ac­cus­ing the es­tab­lish­ment-backed Tillis of be­ing a squishy mod­er­ate. Tillis’s fun­drais­ing with Karl Rove sug­gest he isn’t hid­ing the fact he’s the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s can­did­ate-of-choice, either. The in­cum­bent Demo­crat, Sen. Kay Hagan, is vul­ner­able, but North Car­o­lina’s purple tint means Re­pub­lic­ans don’t have a free pass for her seat. Even if Tillis wins, he risks stretch­ing him­self too far to the right to win the primary.

Geor­gia

When: May 20

Ma­jor can­did­ates: Reps. Jack King­ston, Phil Gin­grey, Paul Broun, former state Sec­ret­ary of State Kar­en Han­del, busi­ness­man Dav­id Per­due

Why it mat­ters: It’s the Demo­crats’ fa­vor­ite primary. The free-for-all field is seen as near-cer­tain to move to a sum­mer­time run­off between the top two fin­ish­ers. And if Broun or Gin­grey fill either spot, the GOP is in trouble. Both, but es­pe­cially Broun, have a his­tory of in­cen­di­ary rhet­or­ic that would give Demo­crats a chance to win this New South red state. Their pre­sumptive nom­in­ee, Michelle Nunn, has the fam­ous fath­er and fun­drais­ing chops to be an ideal stand­ard-bear­er, even if she is new to polit­ics.

A com­pet­it­ive Peach State race in the fall would be a ma­jor blow to the GOP’s hopes of re­tak­ing the Sen­ate. Watch to see if Re­pub­lic­an power brokers can dis­creetly knock Broun and Gin­grey out of the way.

Iowa

When: June 3

Ma­jor can­did­ates: State Sen. Joni Ernst, talk-ra­dio host Sam Clo­vis, busi­ness­man Mark Jac­obs, former U.S. At­tor­ney Matt Whi­taker

Why it mat­ters: With no clear front-run­ner, it’s pos­sible no can­did­ate will cross the 35 per­cent threshold ne­ces­sary to avoid a con­ven­tion. If so, a pro­cess usu­ally con­trolled by con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists will se­lect the party’s nom­in­ee, and that hasn’t worked well for the GOP re­cently. Demo­crats have already ral­lied around Rep. Bruce Bra­ley as their nom­in­ee. Iowa GOP lead­ers are vow­ing to take back the con­ven­tion with main­stream Re­pub­lic­an del­eg­ates, a massive grass­roots un­der­tak­ing that will test wheth­er the es­tab­lish­ment can match the en­ergy of act­iv­ists. Tra­di­tion­ally, they have been un­able to do so.

North Carolina

When: May 6

Ma­jor Can­did­ates: State House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Thom Tillis, phys­i­cian Greg Bran­non, pas­tor Mark Har­ris

Why it mat­ters: Per­haps no primary has been as act­ive as early as the Tar Heel State’s GOP con­test. Already Bran­non, backed by Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, and Har­ris are ac­cus­ing the es­tab­lish­ment-backed Tillis of be­ing a squishy mod­er­ate. Tillis’s fun­drais­ing with Karl Rove sug­gest he isn’t hid­ing the fact he’s the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s can­did­ate-of-choice, either. The in­cum­bent Demo­crat, Sen. Kay Hagan, is vul­ner­able, but North Car­o­lina’s purple tint means Re­pub­lic­ans don’t have a free pass for her seat. Even if Tillis wins, he risks stretch­ing him­self too far to the right to win the primary.

Georgia

When: May 20

Ma­jor can­did­ates: Reps. Jack King­ston, Phil Gin­grey, Paul Broun, former state Sec­ret­ary of State Kar­en Han­del, busi­ness­man Dav­id Per­due

Why it mat­ters: It’s the Demo­crats’ fa­vor­ite primary. The free-for-all field is seen as near-cer­tain to move to a sum­mer­time run­off between the top two fin­ish­ers. And if Broun or Gin­grey fill either spot, the GOP is in trouble. Both, but es­pe­cially Broun, have a his­tory of in­cen­di­ary rhet­or­ic that would give Demo­crats a chance to win this New South red state. Their pre­sumptive nom­in­ee, Michelle Nunn, has the fam­ous fath­er and fun­drais­ing chops to be an ideal stand­ard-bear­er, even if she is new to polit­ics.

A com­pet­it­ive Peach State race in the fall would be a ma­jor blow to the GOP’s hopes of re­tak­ing the Sen­ate. Watch to see if Re­pub­lic­an power brokers can dis­creetly knock Broun and Gin­grey out of the way.

Iowa

When: June 3

Ma­jor can­did­ates: State Sen. Joni Ernst, talk-ra­dio host Sam Clo­vis, busi­ness­man Mark Jac­obs, former U.S. At­tor­ney Matt Whi­taker

Why it mat­ters: With no clear front-run­ner, it’s pos­sible no can­did­ate will cross the 35 per­cent threshold ne­ces­sary to avoid a con­ven­tion. If so, a pro­cess usu­ally con­trolled by con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists will se­lect the party’s nom­in­ee, and that hasn’t worked well for the GOP re­cently. Demo­crats have already ral­lied around Rep. Bruce Bra­ley as their nom­in­ee. Iowa GOP lead­ers are vow­ing to take back the con­ven­tion with main­stream Re­pub­lic­an del­eg­ates, a massive grass­roots un­der­tak­ing that will test wheth­er the es­tab­lish­ment can match the en­ergy of act­iv­ists. Tra­di­tion­ally, they have been un­able to do so.

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