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Who’s Afraid of Steve Stockman?

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: U.S. Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) walks through the Capitol Building on October 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. As Democratic and Republican leaders negotiate an end to the shutdown and a way to raise the debt limit, the White House postponed a planned Monday afternoon meeting with Boehner and other Congressional leaders. The government shutdown is currently in its 14th day. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
National Journal
Steven Shepard
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Steven Shepard
Jan. 10, 2014, 6:50 a.m.

It’s no secret that we haven’t con­sidered Rep. Steve Stock­man (R) to be a ser­i­ous threat to Sen. John Cornyn (R) in their March 4 Lone Star State Sen­ate primary. The reas­ons are as much struc­tur­al as they are Texas-spe­cif­ic: For all the ink spilled over con­gres­sion­al primar­ies (and Texas, spe­cific­ally, on A1 of the Wash­ing­ton Post this past Sunday), schol­ar­ship shows they aren’t more com­mon (or more suc­cess­ful) now than in re­cent dec­ades. And Stock­man doesn’t fit the pro­file of a suc­cess­ful chal­lenger.

— Re­cent de­vel­op­ments — an anti-Stock­man TV ad launched this week by a pro-Cornyn su­per PAC and a new TV ad out Fri­day from Cornyn’s camp — would seem to in­dic­ate that the in­cum­bent is tak­ing the threat more ser­i­ously. But with just 7 weeks un­til the primary, these moves seem more due di­li­gence than pan­ic but­ton. Team Cornyn has been pre­par­ing for a primary chal­lenger (one more cred­ible than Stock­man) for two years, as evid­enced by his nearly-$7 mil­lion bank ac­count at the end of the third quarter. And without a ser­i­ous Demo­crat in the race, not spend­ing in the primary would be mal­prac­tice.

— Clark Uni­versity pro­fess­or Robert Boat­right ex­amined the past 40 years of con­gres­sion­al primar­ies in his 2013 book “Get­ting Primar­ied: The Chan­ging Polit­ics of Con­gres­sion­al Primary Chal­lenges,” find­ing that they aren’t more com­mon now; their fre­quency waxes and wanes with over­all polit­ic­al po­lar­iz­a­tion. There’s more out­side money than ever boost­ing primary chal­lengers, but that cuts both ways: In­cum­bent-aligned su­per PACs are pop­ping up, too, like the Mc­Con­nell-back­ing Ken­tucki­ans for Strong Lead­er­ship and the Cornyn-aligned Tex­ans for a Con­ser­vat­ive Ma­jor­ity.

— Texas is just the first primary on the cal­en­dar in 2014. Hot­line seni­or Sen­ate ana­lyst Ju­lie So­bel took a look at the top Sen­ate primar­ies at the end of last year, rank­ing Sen. Thad Co­chran (R-MS) as the most vul­ner­able to los­ing re­nom­in­a­tion. Mis­sis­sippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) has the sup­port of key out­side groups (Stock­man does not). Bey­ond Mis­sis­sippi, which some auto­mated sur­veys show might be a coin-flip, the in­cum­bent is favored in each of the oth­er “com­pet­it­ive” Sen­ate primar­ies. (Wyom­ing has since dropped off the map al­to­geth­er.) We’d set the over/un­der on Sen­ate in­cum­bents los­ing re­nom­in­a­tion at 0.5.

We spend a lot of time on Sen­ate primar­ies, but few Sen­ate in­cum­bents ac­tu­ally end up los­ing. Just be­cause John Cornyn is step­ping up his cam­paign doesn’t mean he’s any closer to be­com­ing the next Dick Lugar or Bob Ben­nett.

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