Assessing Senate GOPers’ Perfect but Tumultuous Primary Record

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 12: U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) rides on the Senate Subway at the US Capitol, on December 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate worked through the night debating U.S. President Barack Obama's Circuit Court nominations. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Scott Bland
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Scott Bland
Aug. 8, 2014, 7:45 a.m.

With Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der‘s (R-TN) Thursday primary win, every GOP Sen­ate in­cum­bent has suc­cess­fully nav­ig­ated an in­creas­ingly treach­er­ous primary land­scape. So what, if any­thing, should we take away from a cycle that saw five of them dip, un­usu­ally, un­der 60% in those nom­in­at­ing con­tests?

— First of all, the data: Those five sub-60% GOP show­ings equal the num­ber from both parties in 2010, a tu­mul­tu­ous anti-in­cum­bent year. There’s simply been a sharp up­tick in com­pet­it­ive Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies in the last three elec­tions. The House, which gives us more data, shows this well. The num­ber of GOP in­cum­bents run­ning es­sen­tially un­op­posed has fallen from around 80% to a little over 50%, while the num­ber get­ting un­der 60% or 70% has climbed. In 2014, 1-in-5 House Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bents got less than 70% in their primar­ies, and more than 1-in-10 got less than 60%.

— Of course, elec­tions ex­ist to crown a win­ner, and you can’t ar­gue with Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans’ per­fect re­cord this year. In the House, there’s ample evid­ence that weak­er-than-usu­al primary res­ults can bring stronger chal­lengers out of the wood­work, which seems to have happened to Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) this year, for ex­ample. The six-year Sen­ate cycle makes that more dif­fi­cult.

— There’s no ques­tion that the en­vir­on­ment is riper for chal­lengers now, though, start­ing with fun­drais­ing. An en­tire anti-in­cum­bent fun­drais­ing ap­par­at­us now ex­ists to push chal­lengers closer even to pop­u­lar in­cum­bents like Al­ex­an­der (though the re­turn on in­vest­ment may not be as high). That money may simply en­sure some level of com­pet­i­tion no mat­ter what. But it’s a real­ity the es­tab­lish­ment has to handle, not an ex­cuse, and it’s tempt­ing to won­der wheth­er there are more vi­able 2016 and 2018 chal­lengers out there who have watched some cur­rent GOP chal­lengers with fatal flaws get around 40%, and think, “I could do bet­ter.”

In turn, that raises an­oth­er ques­tion: What’s the over­lap between the type of chal­lengers who have in the past suc­cumbed to in­side pres­sure not to chal­lenge Al­ex­an­der et al, and the type of chal­lengers the GOP anti-in­cum­bent fin­an­cial in­dustry will sup­port? We may find out in 2016 and bey­ond. For now, though, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans have man­aged to achieve their first elect­or­al ob­ject­ive of the year.— Scott Bland

What We're Following See More »
Puerto Rico Another Sticking Point in Budget Talks
13 hours ago

President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."

Democrats Threaten Spending Bill Over Obamacare
17 hours ago

Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.

IN 2014
Pentagon Warned Flynn Not To Accept Foreign Payments
19 hours ago
One-Week Spending Bill On The Table
19 hours ago

Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

White House Proposes New Tax Plan
1 days ago

The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.