Unexpected Republican Primaries
2008 could be a record year for unexpected Republican primaries. Whether or not strong contenders emerge, Republican primaries are, of course, expected in states from South Dakota to New Jersey, states with Democratic Senate incumbents but a handful (or more) of ambitious Republicans itching to take their shots. And, of course, there will be notable Democratic primaries ranging from Minnesota to Georgia. But the number of unexpected potential Republican primaries for Senate in 2008 is running high.
There are a number of reasons for this. One reason, illustrated more clearly in the Republican Presidential primary, is general discontent by Republican voters of Republican candidates and officials. Another reason is that Republicans are particularly divided over the issue of immigration reform. Another reason could be that, in many races, the incumbent Republican simply isn't conservative enough for the base. Though several of these states with unexpected potential Republican primaries are traditionally red states, the emergence of a viable Democratic challenger in many of these states makes the possibility of a primary all the more daunting for Republicans.
Lack of Leadership
Kentucky: Many elements of the conservative base are growingly unhappy with Mitch McConnell's helming of Senate Republicans, and none have been more vocal than the conservative blogosphere across the country, many of whom have focused on their discontent with McConnell's support for Bush's bipartisan immigration reform attempts. Further, in Kentucky, 1995 GOP gubernatorial nominee Larry Forgy, a loyalist to corrupt incumbent Governor Ernie Fletcher, has hinted that he would consider or support a primary challenge to McConnell if he felt McConnell did not do enough to help Fletcher's embattled re-election bid. While McConnell enjoys a hefty bankroll, the power of his political machine has diminished as demonstrated by Anne Northup's gubernatorial primary defeat to Ernie Fletcher. If a Republican primary challenger sapped significant resources of McConnell's, he could find himself very vulnerable to a viable Democrat, say either 2003 Lt. Gov. nominee Charlie Owen or state Attorney General Greg Stumbo.
South Carolina: Primarily driven by anger over Lindsey Graham's support for immigration reform, the South Carolina conservative netroots have begun voicing their displeasure with Graham and desire for a primary challenger. Dump Lindsey.org and Dump Lindsey Graham express South Carolina conservatives' preference for a replacement for Graham. As Hotline's Blogometer reported:
A new project launched by conservative bloggers promises a primary challenge for any GOP Senator who votes for the [immigration reform] proposal. The most prominent in that field? None other than McCain supporter Lindsay Graham (R-SC). So far, there have been rumblings of a primary challenge for Graham but no candidate yet. If the revived immigration plan comes up to a vote, will Graham's yea or ney be the triggering mechanism?This project is called The Payback Project and it seems to have successfully spooked Saxby Chambliss of Georgia into distancing himself from the immigration reform legislation. If Graham continues his support for the immigration reform legislation, expect talk of a primary to intensify. After that, Democrats still need to come through with a viable Senate candidate.
Not "Conservative" Enough
Oregon: For more than a decade, Gordon Smith has been Oregon's only statewide Republican. He has achieved this by presenting himself as a moderate who can voice Oregon's concerns to the Republican leadership in the White House and Congress. But with the Republican brand inreasingly tarnished, and with Smith's back-and-forth on Iraq demonstrating his lack of integrity, he is coming off as too far to the right for Oregon moderates but also too fiscally irresponsible for conservatives. As such, 1998 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Sizemore has hinted that he would consider a primary challenge to Smith. While Democrats have had a difficult time recruiting a top-tier challenger for Smith, the job would be considerably easier if a Republican primary challenger pulled Smith to the right and sapped significant resources.
Minnesota: Norm Coleman finds himself in a similar situation to Gordon Smith, having to maintain moderate credibility to ensure a necessary breadth of support. Minnesota will have no shortage of Democratic candidates itching to take Coleman on, be it a famous satirist, an attorney who slew Big Tobacco, a Nobel Laureate, and so on. It would help the eventual Democratic nominee if Coleman was pulled to the right and had resources sapped by a primary challenger. Enter Joe Repya, a military veteran and former advisor to Coleman who is considering entering the race. Despite Repya's ideological position to the right of the GOP, his apparent sincerity and straightforwardness would offer a damaging foil for the political opportunist Coleman and severely weaken his character before entering the general election, if he wins the primary, that is.
Colorado: Senator Wayne Allard has retired and former Rep. Bob Schaffer appears to be the presumptive Republican Senate nominee for 2008. But enough rumblings keep occuring suggesting that a bloc of the CO-GOP is not convinced Schaffer is a viable candidate against Democratic Congressman Mark Udall. As such, we could still see a CO-GOP primary, leaving the eventual Republican nominee worse for the wear.
Nebraska: There will be a Republican primary in Nebraska. The only question is whether or not Chuck Hagel will be involved. If he is, Hagel will likely still see opposition from state Attorney General Jon Bruning, whose campaign has highlighted Hagel's lack of support for the Bush administration on Iraq, and former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub. If Hagel does not run for re-election, expect those two candidates plus businessman Tony Raimondo and who knows how many others might consider a bid for an open seat. This would not be as notable a scenario if it wasn't for the fact that two prominent Nebraska Democrats were considering Senate bids: Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey and former Senator Bob Kerrey. As it seems unlikely that there would be a Democratic primary, whichever Democrat steps up will be at full strength to await a battle-bruised, resource-diminished Republican.
Idaho: If Larry Craig doesn't retire, than this paragraph is moot. However, if I had to make a wager, I'd bet on a Craig retirement. Should Craig retire, Idaho's GOP Lt. Gov. Jim Risch has been drooling to enter the Senate race and GOP Rep. Mike Simpson has at times expressed interest. While Idaho is just about as red a state as there is, the ID-Dems have put up their strongest Senate candidate in years in former Congressman Larry LaRocco. Should Craig retire and a rough Republican primary politically injury the eventual Republican nominee, Democrats would have their best opportunity in years for a Senate pickup here.
New Mexico: Pete Domenici's role in the Attorney Purge scandal has been widely reported and its impact on Domenici's approval rating has been observed. With Domenici's approval bottoming out, for the moment, around 50%, he is still awaiting the results of the Senate Ethics Committee's investigation. Should findings or political fallout result in a Domenici retirement or resignation, we could very well see a Republican primary in New Mexico to replace Domenici. Though far-right GOP Rep. Steve Pearce would be the frontrunner, a less far-right Republican might see an opening for a challenge. Meanwhile, the prospect of an open seat could entice Democratic Congressman Tom Udall or another top-tier Democrat to enter the race.
Alaska: As Ted Stevens gets more deeply embroiled in FBI investigations surrounding renovations to his home and his relationship with the corrupt VECO Corporation, coupled with Stevens advanced age, declining poll numbers, and increased interest from Democratic Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, Stevens could yet opt for retirement (if the FBI's investigation doesn't turn up something sooner that might force Stevens from the Senate), leaving Alaska wide open for a Republican Senate primary.
With the NRSC's fundraising being well eclipsed by the DSCC, and with 21 Republican incumbents to protect compared with 12 Democrats, Republican Senate resources will be spread awfully thin in 2008. The prospect of all these primaries, sapping already sparse resources, looms large over Republicans hoping to minimize losses in 2008 following a majority-losing 2006.