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.
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.
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.
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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As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."