Politics

Can the Tea Party Find Any Candidates?

From left: Sens. Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander are pictured. (AP Photos)
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Aug. 26, 2013, 2 a.m.

There aren’t three Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors more vul­ner­able to a tea-party chal­lenge than Lamar Al­ex­an­der, Lind­sey Gra­ham, and Mitch Mc­Con­nell — long­time in­cum­bents with a his­tory of deal-mak­ing and mod­er­a­tion that con­ser­vat­ives love to hate.

But con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists itch­ing for primary fights are miss­ing an es­sen­tial ele­ment of vic­tory: can­did­ates.

In each of the three races, con­ser­vat­ives worry that they’ve yet to find a cred­ible primary chal­lenger, one cap­able of knock­ing off a bet­ter-known and bet­ter-fin­anced in­cum­bent. And now they fear that they’ll squander some golden op­por­tun­it­ies in what should be a great cycle.

It’s not easy to de­feat a Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bent. While the es­tab­lish­ment routinely loses open-seat primar­ies, only two GOP sen­at­ors have lost a primary since 2010 — Robert Ben­nett of Utah in 2010 and Richard Lugar of In­di­ana in 2012.

“In or­der to run a suc­cess­ful grass­roots cam­paign and de­feat es­tab­lished in­cum­bents with all their ad­vant­ages, the can­did­ate needs to be com­pel­ling,” said Matt Hoskins, spokes­man for the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, a group that fre­quently tar­gets GOP sen­at­ors it views as too mod­er­ate. “More times than not, the can­did­ates who de­feat in­cum­bents are ex­cep­tion­al can­did­ates.”

The prob­lem for tea-party act­iv­ists is es­pe­cially acute in South Car­o­lina and Ten­ness­ee. It’s not that Sens. Gra­ham and Al­ex­an­der haven’t drawn chal­lengers — Gra­ham, in fact, has three of them. It’s that con­ser­vat­ives say the can­did­ates who have emerged lack the pro­file, mes­sage, and skill to de­feat an in­cum­bent.

Al­ex­an­der, who has sparred with Vo­lun­teer State tea-party groups over the need for prag­mat­ism in gov­ern­ment, drew his first primary chal­lenger, state Rep. Joe Carr, last week. The loc­al law­maker had been run­ning against GOP Rep. Scott Des­Jar­lais, but dropped out of the race to take on Al­ex­an­der.

The two-term sen­at­or’s votes this year have ex­posed vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies in a GOP primary. He backed clo­ture for a vote on ex­pand­ing gun-sale back­ground checks — al­though he op­posed the meas­ure it­self — and sup­por­ted com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, which con­ser­vat­ives de­cry as am­nesty.

But Carr, ac­cord­ing to con­ser­vat­ives track­ing the race, isn’t poised to take ad­vant­age of Al­ex­an­der’s vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies, be­cause of his own bag­gage. Last year, Carr sup­por­ted the in­cen­di­ary re­marks made by former Rep. Todd Akin, who sug­ges­ted that wo­men can’t be­come preg­nant after a rape.

“We’re a little con­cerned about Carr,” Hoskins said. “If he couldn’t get trac­tion in House race, he prob­ably can’t get trac­tion in Sen­ate race.”

Three can­did­ates have already stepped up to take on Gra­ham in the Pal­metto State: state Sen. Lee Bright, so­cial-con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ist Richard Cash, and Nancy Mace, who was the first wo­man to gradu­ate from the Cit­adel. She is con­sidered the strongest of the trio, but thus far, few con­sider her a ser­i­ous threat to Gra­ham, des­pite his out­spoken ad­vocacy for im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

“The early stages of her cam­paign in­dic­ate she might not be ready for prime time,” said Chip Felkel, a vet­er­an South Car­o­lina GOP strategist.

He ad­ded: “[Gra­ham] will have a race, but I think he’ll win. It won’t be nearly as com­pet­it­ive as some people would like to think. So far, the tea party has nev­er shown an abil­ity to rally around one per­son or is­sue.”

Mc­Con­nell faces the most sig­ni­fic­ant primary chal­lenge of the three. Matt Bev­in, a Louis­ville-area busi­ness­man, has the best chance to emerge as the next Mike Lee or Richard Mour­dock, the two chal­lengers who de­feated an in­cum­bent Re­pub­lic­an. Bev­in has cer­tainly gained Mc­Con­nell’s at­ten­tion: The Ken­tucky law­maker has already aired three neg­at­ive ads tar­get­ing Bev­in per­son­ally, and last week the sen­at­or re­leased an in­tern­al poll show­ing him up big in a po­ten­tial primary.

Bev­in has yet to gain the coveted en­dorse­ment of the anti-tax Club for Growth, the de facto mark­er of a ser­i­ous primary chal­lenge. The club has said only that it is “watch­ing” the race.

Con­ser­vat­ives still have time to re­cruit more can­did­ates . Ten­ness­ee con­ser­vat­ives, for ex­ample, are hold­ing a series of for­ums in Septem­ber in which pro­spect­ive chal­lengers are in­vited to speak, a sort of month­long au­di­tion to find and unite be­hind a can­did­ate. Or con­ser­vat­ives can hope the loom­ing fight over de­fund­ing Obama­care sparks more in­terest. Even as many GOP lead­ers back off the de­fund­ing idea , many act­iv­ists re­main fer­vently be­hind it.

“We’ve seen an in­crease in the num­ber of can­did­ates com­ing in to our of­fice who are chal­len­ging or want to chal­lenge in­cum­bent mem­bers of Con­gress,” said Barney Keller, spokes­man for the Club for Growth. “Much of that is born out of a frus­tra­tion that Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers aren’t do­ing enough to fight Obama­care and lim­it the size of gov­ern­ment.”

What We're Following See More »
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
2 days ago
THE LATEST
MOB RULE?
Trump on Immigration: ‘I Don’t Know, You Tell Me’
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Perhaps Donald Trump can take a plebiscite to solve this whole messy immigration thing. At a Fox News town hall with Sean Hannity last night, Trump essentially admitted he's "stumped," turning to the audience and asking: “Can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out? Tell me, I mean, I don’t know, you tell me.”

Source:
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
4 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
QUESTIONS OVER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Trump Cancels Rallies
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump probably isn't taking seriously John Oliver's suggestion that he quit the race. But he has canceled or rescheduled rallies amid questions over his stance on immigration. Trump rescheduled a speech on the topic that he was set to give later this week. Plus, he's also nixed planned rallies in Oregon and Las Vegas this month.

Source:
‘STRATEGY AND MESSAGING’
Sean Hannity Is Also Advising Trump
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's Fox News brain trust keeps growing. After it was revealed that former Fox chief Roger Ailes is informally advising Trump on debate preparation, host Sean Hannity admitted over the weekend that he's also advising Trump on "strategy and messaging." He told the New York Times: “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. I never claimed to be a journalist.”

Source:
×