Mitch McCon­nell's Worst Night­mare

The Tea Party chal­lenges Alabama’s GOP sen­a­tor “For many of th­ese Repub­li­cans, the elec­tion…is pri­mary day”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - POLITICS/ POLICY -

Alabama Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Richard Shelby, who boasts a score of 99 per­cent from lead­ing con­ser­va­tive group Her­itage Ac­tion for Amer­ica, is a pil­lar of to­day’s GOP es­tab­lish­ment. First elected to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 1978 as a Demo­crat, Shelby moved to the Se­nate in 1987 and flipped par­ties af­ter the Repub­li­can rev­o­lu­tion of 1994. He’s now the chair­man of the Se­nate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee and one of his party’s top fundrais­ers.

This year, that pro­file may work against him. Shelby, 81, is fac­ing a chal­lenge from the right in his pri­mary, which takes place on March 1, along­side the state’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing con­test. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell finds him­self in a quandary as he tries to hold on to the GOP’s four-seat Se­nate ad­van­tage: On the one hand, he can’t af­ford to alien­ate mod­er­ate, in­de­pen­dent vot­ers in swing states like Florida and New Hamp­shire, where Se­nate races are likely to be close; on the other, he’s bound to pro­tect in­cum­bent sen­a­tors from be­ing chal­lenged from the right, a con­cern that un­der­pins his de­ci­sion to block con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for any Supreme Court nom­i­nee un­til af­ter the gen­eral elec­tion in Novem­ber. “Es­pe­cially in this at­mos­phere where there’s a lot of anti-es­tab­lish­ment feel­ing out there, any­thing can catch fire,” says con­sul­tant Ron Bon­jean, who worked with the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee for the 2014 midterms. “For many of th­ese Repub­li­cans, the elec­tion isn’t Elec­tion Day. The elec­tion is pri­mary day.”

Shelby’s chief an­tag­o­nist is a 33-yearold marine named Jonathan McCon­nell (no re­la­tion to the Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader). A first-time can­di­date who runs a mar­itime se­cu­rity firm he started while in law school at the Univer­sity of Alabama, McCon­nell is the son of a for­mer state GOP chair­man. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fed­eral fil­ings, he’s raised more than $766,000 for his bid and has about $92,000 on hand, far less than the $12.2 mil­lion Shelby has in the bank. McCon­nell says he’s faced up­hill bat­tles be­fore; as an un­der­grad­u­ate

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