Spotlight

The GOP’s Senate Schism

Thad Cochran (R-MS) listens during a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 9, 2009.                                                                                                                                                                                
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
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Josh Kraushaar
Oct. 18, 2013, 7:45 a.m.

If you’re look­ing for a signs of an emer­ging schism between the es­tab­lish­ment and tea party with­in the GOP, look no fur­ther than the mount­ing crop of primary chal­lengers to Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate in­cum­bents. In 2010 and 2012, tea party act­iv­ists picked their most vul­ner­able tar­gets, like Lugar, Hatch and Ben­nett. Now they’re go­ing after the en­tire es­tab­lish­ment.

— With state sen­at­or Chris McDaniel‘s cam­paign against Mis­sis­sippi Sen. Thad Co­chran, half of the 12 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors up for reelec­tion now face threats from the right. A sev­enth, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, is wor­ried enough about a primary that he voted against the gov­ern­ment-fund­ing com­prom­ise.

— While most of the up­starts are clear un­der­dogs, McDaniel is the closest to ac­tu­ally win­ning a Sen­ate seat. The state le­gis­lat­or’s well-or­ches­trated en­trance was de­signed as much to put pres­sure on Co­chran to re­tire. The Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund and Club for Growth each blas­ted en­dorse­ments out with­in minutes of his an­nounce­ment. One con­ser­vat­ive op­er­at­ive in­volved in the race called him “the Jim De­Mint of the Mis­sis­sippi state le­gis­lature” and ex­pects him to be more for­mid­able than any of the oth­er con­ser­vat­ive Sen­ate chal­lengers.

— McDaniel and his al­lies read the polit­ic­al tea leaves in Mis­sis­sippi ef­fect­ively. Co­chran only raised $53,000 in the third quarter, a tell­tale sign the long­time ap­pro­pri­at­or is head­ing to the exits. If Co­chran does step down, McDaniel would be­come an early fron­trun­ner as the con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate, with na­tion­al fun­drais­ing as­sets be­hind him. Mis­sis­sippi, after all, is a deeply Re­pub­lic­an state with a very con­ser­vat­ive primary elect­or­ate.

It’s strik­ing that the Club for Growth, which tra­di­tion­ally fo­cuses on the House, has now en­dorsed more can­did­ates for the Sen­ate (2) this cycle. The Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund is now of­fi­cially op­pos­ing Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, back­ing his tea party chal­lenger Matt Bev­in. With House Re­pub­lic­ans already march­ing in line with the base, out­side groups are work­ing to re­shape the Sen­ate more to their lik­ing.

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