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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