Ranking the Top 5 Senators Vulnerable in 2014 Primaries

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 2: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) listens to Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) speak during a press conference on Capitol Hill November 2, 2007 in Washington, DC. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) held the news conference to speak about pending legislation and the pending confirmation of Michael Mukasey for attorney general. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
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Julie Sobel
Dec. 27, 2013, midnight

As we close out 2013, here’s a look at the sen­at­ors at risk of los­ing their primar­ies. It’s worth not­ing that it’s a re­l­at­ively rare event for sen­at­ors to fall in a primary — in 2012, only former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., lost to a primary chal­lenger, and the pre­vi­ous cycle just Sens. Robert Ben­net, R-Utah, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, did — though Murkowski came back and won reelec­tion as a write-in can­did­ate. So, keep­ing in mind that we pre­dicted in our fi­nal Hot­line Spot­light of the year that no Sen­ate in­cum­bent will lose a primary next year, here are the can­did­ates who should be most wary as we head in­to 2014.

1. Sen. Thad Co­chran, R-Miss., ap­pears to be the most in danger of fail­ing to earn re­nom­in­a­tion. His chal­lenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, has lined up a num­ber of out­side groups — Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, the Madis­on Pro­ject, Club for Growth — be­hind him. For the 76-year-old Co­chran’s part, he seemed geared up for the chal­lenge when he an­nounced he’d run again. But, to this point, Co­chran hasn’t been rais­ing money ag­gress­ively (he ended the third quarter with just over $800,000 in the bank), and he hasn’t had a com­pet­it­ive race in 30 years.

2. The only Demo­crat on our list, Sen. Bri­an Schatz of Hawaii faces a primary chal­lenge from Demo­crat­ic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who had also hoped to be ap­poin­ted to the seat at the end of last year when the late Sen. Daniel In­ouye died. An Oc­to­ber robo-poll showed the race neck and neck, as did a poll this sum­mer — and a poll from EMILY’s List (which is back­ing Hanabusa) over the sum­mer showed the con­gress­wo­man up. But Schatz also pulled ahead in fun­drais­ing dur­ing the third quarter, bring­ing in $678,000 to Hanabusa’s $441,000. Ex­pect a hard-fought race.

3. Liz Cheney, daugh­ter of former Vice Pres­id­ent Dick Cheney, is giv­ing Sen. Mi­chael En­zi, R-Wyo., the first com­pet­it­ive race of his ca­reer. And she out­raised the sen­at­or in the third quarter, bring­ing in more than $1 mil­lion to En­zi’s nearly $850,000. But En­zi’s haul was much more than the $100,000 he took in dur­ing the pre­vi­ous quarter, in­dic­at­ing he’s geared up in light of the ag­gress­ive chal­lenge. A poll re­leased this month by a su­per PAC that has been run­ning ads against Cheney showed the in­cum­bent up by a whop­ping 52 points, so Cheney will need to make up a lot of ground. Dis­trac­tions like the pub­lic fight with her sis­ter Mary Cheney over gay mar­riage do not help.

4. Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., has a num­ber of primary chal­lengers, none of whom is likely to beat him out­right. But un­der South Car­o­lina’s sys­tem, if no can­did­ate garners 50 per­cent of the vote in the primary, the top two vote-get­ters go to a run­off. And if Gra­ham’s chal­lengers man­age to keep him un­der 50 per­cent, con­ser­vat­ive sup­port could gel be­hind his op­pon­ent in the one-on-one run­off. Gra­ham was boos­ted this week by TV ads from former Arkan­sas Gov. Mike Hucka­bee, the con­ser­vat­ive stal­wart who fin­ished a close second in the state’s 2008 pres­id­en­tial primary. Mean­while, state Sen. Lee Bright, the front-run­ning Gra­ham chal­lenger, has filed a bill that wouldn’t al­low people to vote in a primary “un­less the per­son has re­gistered as be­ing a mem­ber of that party.”

5. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell is very un­pop­u­lar in Ken­tucky. And un­like the oth­er sen­at­ors on our list, he has to po­s­i­tion him­self on two fronts: a primary chal­lenge from busi­ness­man Matt Bev­in, and a real gen­er­al-elec­tion chal­lenge from Demo­crat Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes. Mc­Con­nell has a huge war chest built up — he fin­ished the third quarter with nearly $10 mil­lion in the bank — as well as a vaunted polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tion, and shouldn’t be un­der­es­tim­ated. While Bev­in has the sup­port of the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund and some abil­ity to self-fund, it’s far from clear that he has what it takes to oust the minor­ity lead­er.

Sev­er­al oth­er GOP sen­at­ors are also fa­cing primary op­pon­ents. In Kan­sas, phys­i­cian (and dis­tant cous­in of Pres­id­ent Obama) Milton Wolf is chal­len­ging Sen. Pat Roberts; in Ten­ness­ee, state Rep. Joe Carr is run­ning against Lamar Al­ex­an­der; and in Texas, Rep. Steve Stock­man is op­pos­ing Sen. John Cornyn. At this point, it doesn’t look as though any of these chal­lenges will gain the trac­tion ne­ces­sary to be­come ser­i­ous threats, al­though Wolf has the sup­port of some key con­ser­vat­ive groups that haven’t yet lined up be­hind Carr or Stock­man.

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