The GOP Seems Bent on Backing Crazy Right-Wingers in the Mid-Terms: Good or Bad News for Dems?
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Saturday brought the somewhat unsurprising, but nonetheless significant, news that Utah Republicans, in their state nominating conventions, had fired their incumbent Senator.
Bob Bennett is not burdened by scandal, nor has he been the kind of perennially unpopular politico that barely scrapes by intraparty challenges for the duration of his career (the way his fellow Utahn, Chris Cannon, was).
He is a standard-issue incumbent, who committed the capital offense (for 2010, anyway) of being a Republican occasionally capable of a non-ideological vote. This led him to a raft of opponents, and an unceremonious second-round exit in the state convention, one that was fueled at unbridled anger at ideological apostasy, as local columnist Peg McEntee pointed out:
When Bennett lost, the yips and howls from thousands of delegates sounded like coyotes going after one of their own.
Left standing were Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, both Utah County Republicans who like the tea partiers and 9/12ers just fine. Both claim to be strict constitutionalists who will free Utah from an oppressive federal government, take back federal lands in Utah and repeal health care reform.
This process is being repeated from coast-to-coast, where so-called mainstream or "establishment" Republicans are getting battered for their lack of commitment to the "principles" of conservatism.
Of course, the textbook example of this is in the Sunshine State, where the ideological drubbing of Florida Governor Charlie Crist was bad enough to drive him from the party, so convinced was he that he could not survive a Republican primary.
But Crist was not the only man whose political career was imperiled from a primary challenge to their right.
Two races have already confirmed that trend, as the Illinois gubernatorial primary (in a multi-candidate field) saw downstate conservative Bill Brady outlast the more moderate (and according to most polling at the time, more electable) Chicagoland state legislator, Kirk Dillard. Meanwhile, in a convention format similar to Utah's, Minnesota Republicans went with conservative state legislator Tom Emmer, who had ridden the momentum of an endorsement by none other than Sarah Palin.
Bennett, for what it is worth, is not the only incumbent Republican Senator fearing the end of his political career, An even more prominent incumbent is under high-profile fire right now: Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain's challenge from former bombastic conservative Congressman J.D. Hayworth has drawn no shortage of attention.
Meanwhile, several open seat races highlight establishment candidates taking on insurgent right-wing candidates. One of those will be decided in the coming weeks, when Trey Grayson and Rand Paul square off in Kentucky. Other similar challenges await in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire.
In these intraparty schisms, Democrats often believe, is a window of opportunity for their preferred candidates. The next few months will be one of the only times you will see progressive political junkies rooting for the likes of J.D. Hayworth, Peter Hoekstra, and Judge Roy Moore.
The conventional wisdom for that is that more ideological Republican nominees will cede the center to the Democratic nominee, thus enhancing Democratic prospects. As SSP editor Crisitunity wrote of Minnesota's Tom Emmer:
"Emmer, considerably more conservative than the moderate Republicans who are usually the only type who can win statewide, can expect a tough go of it in the general -- especially if Independence Party candidate Tom Horner soaks up a big share of moderate votes. (Seifert would have faced the same problem, but Emmer, who just got a Sarah Palin endorsement, seems especially out-of-whack with his state's preferences.)"
There is, of course, some precedent for this.