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

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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.

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