Since congressional Republicans seem to have decided they’re going to be out doing errands between now and the time they hunker down for the 2014 general elections, us news-watchers and bloviators have a large stake in paying attention to the scattered party primaries that will occur during the course of the year–especially those Senate contests on the Republican side that could screw up the GOP’s drive for Senate control, or tilt their Conference further to the Right, or both.
So it’s prudent to take a look at the calendar.
The first actual primary is in Texas on March 4. Sen. John Cornyn’s right-wing challenger, the erratic Rep. Steve Stockman, has run a really bad campaign and no one thinks the potentially vulnerable Cornyn is in any real trouble (the most competitive Texas primary probably involves 90-year-old Rep. Sam Hall, who is trying to hang on for one more term).
The primary calendar really doesn’t heat up until May. On May 6, North Carolina’s Senate primary revolves around Establishment GOP favorite Thom Tillis’ struggle to reach the 40% necessary to avoid a July 15 runoff against a large field in which the challenger to watch could be self-proclaimed “constitutional conservative” Greg Brannon.
A week later Nebraska’s GOP Senate primary features front-runner Shane Osborn faces fast-rising conservative hero Ben Sasse.
Then a week after that, on May 20, come two highly anticipated Senate primaries. In Kentucky, right-wing candidate Matt Bevin is trying to knock off Mitch McConnell in a nasty and expensive contest. And in Georgia, whose GOP primary I’ve called a “conservative petri dish,” a big field of candidates almost guarantees an August 5 runoff. Since three Republican House members are running for the Senate, there will be fascinating primaries to replace them, with the battle for Phil Gingrey’s 11th district seat, featuring a comeback bid by former congressman and Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, being the headliner.
Eight states hold primaries on June 3, with two likely barnburners. One is in Mississippi, where veteran Senator Thad Cochran is facing the fight of his life against Tea Party champion Chris McDaniel. Then there’s Iowa’s Senate GOP primary. The big factor there is whether any candidate (most likely either self-funder Mark Jacobs or conservative stalwart Sam Clovis) will overcome the 35% threshold necessary to avoid a nominating convention (which would probably favor Clovis).
Well before South Carolina’s June 10 primary we’ll probably have a good idea whether Lindsey Graham has succeeded in drowning his three viable challengers in a sea of money. If he fails to get 50%, he will be highly vulnerable in the quick-turnaround June 24 runoff, since his alleged RINOism is the common ground of all the challengers. Also on June 24, we’ll find out if unsuccessful 2010 CO Senate candidate Ken Buck will, as appears likely, get another shot in a race against Mark Udall, and whether OK Rep. James Lankford can overcome conservative hostility to win a special election to Tom Coburn’s Senate seat with the majority necessary to avoid a dangerous August 26 runoff.
On August 5, Sen. Pat Roberts of KS, who is seeking to re-establish his back-home roots in the state, could have a tough struggle against right-wing challenger Milton Wolf. Two days later, Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is in a situation similar to Lindsey Graham’s, is expected to head off a “RINO purge” challenge from Joe Carr, but it bears watching.
And the primary fun concludes with Alaska, where a close GOP primary between Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell could be decided by the relative strength of 2010 nominee and potential spoiler Joe Miller; Democratic incumbent Mark Begich is hoping for a bloody and expensive Republican contest.
If that’s not enough for you, there’s Louisiana “jungle primary” held in conjunction with the November 4 general election. If neither incumbent Mary Landrieu or Republican challenger Bill Cassidy wins over 50%, campaign junkies and operatives will get one more chance for a pay-day in a December 6 runoff.
There are obviously some House and gubernatorial primaries I haven’t mentioned, and some contests that have yet to develop. But with most eyes on the fight for the Senate, the primary season offers considerable riches, particularly for those who enjoy all those “more conservative than thee” Republican fights of the sort that produced 2012 Senate nominees Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.