When the 2014 midterm cycle started, seven Republican senators -- including its top-two leaders -- received primary challenges, stoking this year’s Tea Party vs. Establishment storyline. But if Sen. Lamar Alexander wins his primary in Tennessee today (a rare Thursday primary!), that means the Tea Party will have been shut out in its contests against Senate GOP incumbents. It all started when Liz Cheney dropped her challenge against Sen. Mike Enzi in Wyoming. Then Sen. John Cornyn and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won their primaries in Texas and Kentucky. Sen. Thad Cochran barely survived in Mississippi, after being forced into a runoff. Sen. Lindsey Graham, despite his support for immigration reform and voting for President Obama’s Supreme Court picks, easily advanced in South Carolina. On Tuesday, Sen. Pat Roberts received a scare -- winning by just 7 points -- but he still moved on. And tonight in Tennessee, most expect Sen. Lamar Alexander, who also voted for immigration reform last year, to triumph. (One thing helping Alexander is that eight challengers are taking him on, including top opponent Joe Carr, which only will divide the anti-Alexander vote. And there is no runoff in Tennessee.)
How the incumbents did it (so far)
So if Alexander wins tonight, the question will become: How did they do it? How did they avoid the same fate as defeated Sens. Robert Bennett (in 2010) and Dick Lugar (in 2012)? We can think of three reasons. One, the incumbents mostly ran good races -- whether it was McConnell blowing opponent Matt Bevin out of the water, or Cochran (very smartly) courting African-American voters in his runoff against Chris McDaniel. Two, the primary challengers had flaws that the incumbents and their allies exploited -- Bevin and cockfighting, the McDaniel supporters taking video of Cochran’s bedridden wife, Roberts opponent Milton Wolf and those Facebook X-rays. And three, they raised considerably more money, which allowed them to run good campaigns and exploit their opponents’ weaknesses. But it all did come at some pain -- and cost. Bloomberg News has calculated that the price tag of this year’s Establishment-vs.-Tea Party primaries is $135 million. “That’s money they’ll have to raise again before facing Democrats this fall,” Bloomberg says. And while the Tea Party might get shut out in these primaries against Senate incumbents, its influence is still considerable on Capitol Hill. See last week’s legislative activity (or inactivity). So the question becomes: Do we see these same intraparty Senate fights in 2016 and future cycles?
Can DesJarlais survive?
Of course, we have seen three House incumbents lose this cycle: 91-year-old Ralph Hall in Texas, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (!!!), and accidental Congressman Kerry Bentivolio in Michigan on Tuesday. And the other story we’re following in Tennessee today is if Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) becomes the fourth House GOP incumbent to lose. In fact, DesJarlais winning -- a real possibility -- would be an even bigger story. As The Hill’s Jessica Taylor has written, “The GOP physician looked like he would be booted from office in late 2012 after revelations that he had pushed his ex-wife to have two abortions and carried on affairs with patients, one of whom he urged to terminate a pregnancy. The socially conservative congressman drew a strong primary opponent this year in state Sen. Jim Tracy (R), and many in the GOP privately say they are rooting for the challenger, because it would rid the party of another member of its ‘scandal caucus.’ But despite DesJarlais being seen as one of the cycle’s most endangered incumbents, more than a half-dozen strategists with deep Tennessee ties say the contest is far closer than expected ahead of the Aug. 7 primary.” Wouldn’t it be something if Cantor lost but DesJarlais wins? Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) is also getting a primary challenge from Weston Wamp, former Rep. Zack Wamp’s son.
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Hawaii holds its primaries on Saturday -- just as it’s bracing for two hurricanes
As we wrote earlier this week, Hawaii holds its primaries on Saturday, and the races we’ll be watching are the Democratic gubernatorial primary between Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state Sen. David Ige (polls show Abercrombie is trailing), and the Democratic Senate primary between appointed Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. But there’s another thing to watch for on Saturday: Will the primaries be impacted by the back-to-back hurricanes hitting the islands? NBC News: “Hawaii was braced for its first direct hurricane hit in 22 years Thursday as Iselle headed towards the Big Island with no sign of weakening... A second system, Hurricane Julio, remained on course to hit Hawaii on Sunday night. It was upgraded to a Category 2 early Thursday but Roth said it was still expected to weaken to a tropical storm before making landfall. Hawaii has been hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, the last being deadly Iniki in 1992.” The primaries are still expected to go on.
Obama to sign VA bill into law
At 11:20 am ET, President Obama will sign the VA-reform legislation into law at Fort Belvoir, VA. Congress passing that legislation to the president’s desk was the exception during the contentious activity on Capitol Hill before Congress’ August recess. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released this statement yesterday: “Initially, the Obama Administration was slow to respond to the crisis, but pressure from Republicans and revulsion from the American people forced the White House to take this crisis seriously. When veterans are denied care, it’s a priority deserving of bipartisan attention, and this legislation will help ensure the VA lives up to the promises that we made to our veterans. We owe them no less.”
Bill Clinton stumps in Rand Paul’s Kentucky…
Finally, as NBC’s Alex Moe reported yesterday, “Bill Clinton campaigned with Alison Grimes in coal country on Wednesday with a rally in Hazard. Nearly a thousand people turned out for the event with several dozen folks forced to stand in the aisles and some were turned away. The duo spoke for 45minutes in front of an enormous American flag and a few dozen coal miners from the United Mine Workers of America were seated on the stage. Many folks in the audience held ‘Coal Country for Alison’ signs.” Clinton also hasn’t forgotten the 2008 primaries, either. “I'm really honored to be here, you know, I love Kentucky,” he said. “You've been good to me, you voted for me twice. And you've been good to Hillary and I appreciate that. You know I don’t pay too close attention to this but I remember, she won the primary election here by 37 points. I am impressed by that.”
… While Rand Paul was bashing Hillary Clinton in Iowa
Here’s what Sen. Rand Paul said about Hillary Clinton in Iowa earlier this week, per the Des Moines Register: “‘I think the (scandal) that bothers me the worst is Benghazi. The thing about it is is that it was one bad decision after another,’ Paul told a crowd of about 200 people at Barefoot Bar, an open-air bar on East Okoboji Lake. "The media tries to say, 'Oh, you Republicans you're just making this into a partisan issue.' Here's the thing: Hillary would like to be the leader of the free world. I think her decisions are fair game for discussing."
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