SPOTLIGHT

A Whole Different Ballgame

Unlike House and governors’ races, GOP Senate leaders aggressively work to weed out fringe candidates.

Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, Corey Stewart, speaks at a campaign kickoff rally in a restaurant in Occoquan, Va.
AP Photo/Steve Helber
Andrea Drusch
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Andrea Drusch
June 16, 2017, 11:08 a.m.

If Trump aco­lyte Corey Stew­art (R) jumps in­to the race to chal­lenge Vir­gin­ia Sen. Tim Kaine (D), as Stew­art sug­ges­ted was a pos­sib­il­ity this week, he’ll face a much more or­gan­ized in­tra­party op­pos­i­tion than he did in his sur­pris­ingly close gubernat­ori­al bid.

GOP out­side groups have struggled with how to handle fringe can­did­ates like Stew­art in House races, gov­ernor’s con­tests and even the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion in re­cent years. But in the Sen­ate, well-fun­ded groups aligned with Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell (R) have plenty of prac­tice stamp­ing out can­did­ates the see as a threat to their caucus.

After los­ing a hand­ful of races on the backs of flawed can­did­ates in 2010, these groups have taken an ag­gress­ive ap­proach to de­fend­ing in­cum­bents, as well as get­ting their pre­ferred can­did­ates through primar­ies in open races. While sev­er­al in­cum­bents faced close calls from primary chal­lenges in 2014, 2016’s GOP in­cum­bents all took more than 50 per­cent in their primar­ies, thanks to ag­gress­ive cam­paigns to dust up their chal­lengers.

In the most re­cent flex­ing of polit­ic­al muscle, the Mc­Con­nell’s Sen­ate Lead­er­ship Fund vowed up to $10 mil­lion to pro­tect an ally in new Alabama Sen. Luth­er Strange this sum­mer, even though lead­ers con­cede any Re­pub­lic­an in the race could hold the seat. The Sen­ate’s GOP es­tab­lish­ment also wields con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence over cam­paign staff, of­ten black­list­ing con­sult­ing firms that do busi­ness with can­did­ates they don’t like.

Stew­art’s bom­bast­ic style, un­der­scored by his re­fus­al to en­dorse primary op­pon­ent Ed Gillespie (R) after los­ing the gov­ernor’s primary this week, is al­most cer­tain to put him at odds with Mc­Con­nell word, which is eagerly eye­ing oth­er can­did­ates for this com­pet­it­ive swing state.

—An­drea Drusch

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