Is there another Doug Hoffman waiting in the wings?
Hoffman, the Conservative Party nominee in an upstate New York race that will be decided today, effectively forced the Republican nominee out of the race this weekend. But while Hoffman’s situation might be unique to a special election in the Empire State, similar ideological divides are likely to be showcased in Republican primaries across the country next year.
Senate Republicans are facing competitive primary battles in open-seat races in Florida and New Hampshire, as well as multicandidate GOP battles in Connecticut and Nevada, where entrenched Democrats are seeking re-election. House Republicans also have primaries that stand to expose ideological rifts in competitive races in Arizona, Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire and several other states.
“Since the last two election cycles, the party has entered a period of growth, and from growth you get growing pains,— said Republican consultant Brian Donahue.
The result is perhaps too much of a good thing: Many Republicans candidates, like Hoffman, who were not previously involved in politics are now launching campaigns. According to Donahue, it’s all part of the GOP’s rebuilding process.
“The party is coming to grips with a change from a controlled top-down campaign system which emphasized tactics, to one that is more organic and populist,— Donahue said. “These activists believe strongly we need to run on the message of our principles and values that they believe were sidelined in the waning years of the Bush administration.—
The National Republican Senatorial Committee early on endorsed Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in the state’s 2010 Senate race, but former state Speaker Marco Rubio (R) is also in the race and has been gaining traction running to the right of the more moderate governor. Rubio, who had been a vocal Hoffman supporter even before the weekend’s turn of events, compared the debate between moderates and conservatives fostered by the New York special election to his own race in the Sunshine State.
“That’s kind of the same debate we’re having here,— Rubio said in a Monday phone interview. “Here it’s a straight-up Republican primary where only Republicans will be voting.—
But that’s not the only major difference in the respective races. The anti-tax Club for Growth says it is responsible for putting more than $1 million into the race on Hoffman’s behalf, either through independent expenditures or by bundling contributions from donors. The club has also made it clear that it plans to target Crist, but it has yet to endorse Rubio. And given how expensive Florida campaigns can be, one Republican official doubted the club would see the Florida Senate race as worth its investment.
“It’s not that expensive to run ads in Syracuse, N.Y.,— said the GOP official. “It costs over $1 million a week in Florida to have any type of message penetrate.—
In New Hampshire, Republicans recruited former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to run for Senate, but now a handful of well-funded Republicans are looking to run as well. One of them, Ovide Lamontagne, said that he believes New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman John Sununu will act as the “mediator— to ensure the primary does not get too nasty. The Granite State has one of the latest primaries of any state, scheduled for September, which means that candidates have less than two months to recover before the general election.
“I very much believe that the Republican Party establishment cannot select the nominees of Republican voters in any state, and that’s particularly true for the independent voters in the Northeast, particularly in New Hampshire,— Lamontagne said.
In fact, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) — who has drawn fire from conservative activists for getting involved in the Florida race — appeared to be on board with that sentiment, implying in a Twitter message that Republicans “pay the price— for not having a primary in the special election.
NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh clarified Cornyn’s comments and said he was only speaking about the selection process in New York.
“Sen. Cornyn was speaking to the selection process in this particular state and stressing the importance of having open primaries where the voters, not a very small group of party leaders, pick the candidates,— Walsh said. “It’s also a reminder, though, that New York 23 was in many ways a unique situation. In all of the outstanding primaries moving forward, it’s the voters who will ultimately choose the nominees. Party leaders and party committees may express their own preference for particular candidates, but the voters will be the final decision-makers as, in Sen. Cornyn’s view, they should be.—
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday dismissed the suggestion that the GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava’s troubles in the New York contest foreshadowed a tough year for moderate Republicans, even as he admitted he regretted endorsing the state Assemblywoman. He pointed to several issues, such as this year’s economic stimulus, where moderates and conservatives were united.
“I have no concerns about the ability of moderates and conservatives to continue to work together,— Boehner said.
The Senate primary isn’t the only GOP battle in the Granite State. House Republicans will likely have a primary in the open-seat 2nd district race — one of many contested party contests across the country. Former Rep. Charlie Bass (R), a leading moderate when he served in the House, is running for his former seat, and the 2008 GOP nominee, Jennifer Horn, is running to his right.
In Arizona, 2008 GOP nominee David Schweikert (R) is running against venture capitalist Jim Ward (R) for the nod to take on Rep. Harry Mitchell (D) in the 5th district. The Club for Growth backed Schweikert in his 2008 bid, but Ward likely has the personal financial resources to make this a real race.
In California, a handful of Republicans are in the race to challenge Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) — a situation that could impede the GOP’s chances of taking back the seat. And when a top GOP lawmaker in Connecticut declined to run against freshman Rep. Jim Himes (D), national Republicans were left with four little-known GOP candidates in the race — not a favorable scenario with the Connecticut primary scheduled for August.
Both parties have a primary on their hands in Illinois’ 10th district, where Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R) departure to run for Senate has created a highly contested open-seat race. Although both parties can take comfort in the fact that Illinois has an early February primary, there’s still a chance that the crowded field — especially for Republicans — could result in a poor ideological fit emerging as the nominee for the general election.
State Rep. Beth Coulson, who many local operatives believe is the most liberal Republican in the race, has had meager fundraising so far in her bid for Kirk’s seat, but she is also the best-known candidate among the group of four Republicans running.
But as several GOP operatives pointed out, the party will have primaries in all of these contests, where turnout is very different from a special election.
Christopher Barron, a Republican political consultant who is a press adviser to a number of Republican candidates and right-of-center political organizations, including the Republican Main Street Partnership, reassured that the special election was a special situation. He added that almost no other state has a multiline candidate ballot like New York.
“The reality is it was a terrible candidate selected in a peculiar manner running in a bizarre multiline system who ran a terrible campaign,— Barron said.