Primary dissent a good sign for Republicans
Some of the fiercest primary battles this midterm season are on the Republican side — which may be bad news for Democrats.
While several Senate Republicans face multiple primary challengers, Democrats for the most part have avoided nasty and expensive internal battles to pick their candidates for November. But political analysts say that may reflect a vigorous debate inside the GOP and an expectation by Republican candidates that this is an excellent year to be on the ballot.
Dan Holler, a spokesman for the conservative activist group Heritage Action for America, said the wealth of primary fights reflects a struggle for power among Republican factions, often with establishment and business-backed candidates facing challenges from tea party rivals. Part of the rivalry, he said, reflects a tug of war over the party’s priorities in the wide-open race for the 2016 presidential nomination.
“There’s a lot more diversity of opinion within the Republican Party than the Democratic Party,” Mr. Holler said. “Is it going to be a party that’s just slightly different from the Democratic Party or a party that actually tries to do what they promise to, which is limit size and scope of government?”
Pollsters and pundits generally project Republicans to retain control of the House and to make a strong bid for the net six seats needed to capture the Senate majority. But Republicans’ focus on primary battles could give Democrats logistical and financial head starts in some key races this fall.
Only two Senate Democrats — Hawaii’s Brian Schatz and Montana’s John E. Walsh, both appointees — are expected to have serious primary challenges this year.
Republican veterans in the Senate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. Lindsey Graham of North Carolina and Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, face primary battles.
In critical states such as Georgia and Iowa, Democrats have coalesced around single candidates while Republicans engage in battles to determine their nominees.
Endangered Democratic incumbents such as Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina already are focused on November, but Republicans have yet to settle on their challengers.
In states where Republicans have united behind strong candidates — such as West Virginia, Colorado and Arkansas — the elections are seen as good opportunities to pick up Senate seats. But the bulk of the toughest primary battles remain inside the GOP.
Such restlessness and conflict are typical for the party that doesn’t control the White House, said Laura Brown, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.
“Political parties in their wilderness years, when they’re out of the White House, they tend to go through this selfreflective time frame, and the parties themselves start to essentially fight over which direction is going to bring them back to the presidency,” she said, noting that Democrats went through a similar period of internal battles in the 1980s.
Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist, said the political landscape reflects increased unity in the party.
“I think the reason why there are very few primary challenges is because there’s no equivalent of the tea party on the Democratic side,” Mr. Manley said. “There are some on the left that are trying to make some noise, but with very few exceptions, they’re not running to try to primary an incumbent.”