The Russian expression “stepping on the same rake twice” means to repeat a stupid mistake without learning from the adverse consequences. That idiom came to mind when I saw that the Club for Growth and Senator Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund are already on the warpath against a strong Republican candidate in one of the 2014 U.S. Senate races.
Far-right nominees cost Republicans U.S. Senate seats in Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada in 2010, and in Indiana and Missouri this year. Maine probably belongs on the list too, because Olympia Snowe might not have retired this year if she hadn’t had to fear a primary challenge from the right. New Hampshire might have been on the list had Ovide Lamontagne defeated Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 GOP primary.
This week U.S. Representative Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia announced that she is running for the Senate in 2014. The state has been trending Republican over the last decade and could be a good pickup opportunity, especially if longtime Democratic incumbent Jay Rockefeller retires. Capito has high name recognition and a lot of political experience. Yet the knives are out:
On day one of her candidacy, Capito received criticism from two conservative groups known for mounting primary challenges against establishment-backed Republicans: the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group founded by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
Chris Chocola, president of the Club, slammed her as an “establishment candidate,” and Senate Conservatives Fund executive director Matt Hoskins said the group wouldn’t endorse her.
“If the grass roots in West Virginia recruit a strong, viable challenger, SCF will seriously consider supporting them,” Hoskins said.
The early criticism indicates Capito, who is in favor of abortion rights and supported the auto and financial bailouts, could face a primary challenge from the right, though few prospects exist.
What is wrong with these people? Democrats have a big voter registration advantage in West Virginia. Is a more conservative Republican really more likely to win this election that Capito? I understand the goal of gaining influence within the Republican Party, but how does it help DeMint to be stuck in the minority?
Democrats have held at least two competitive U.S. Senate seats for every right-wing triumph (Marco Rubio winning in Florida after upsetting former Governor Charlie Crist in the primary, Deb Fischer winning this year’s race in Nebraska).
I don’t remember anything like this phenomenon on the Democratic side after some tough setbacks during the 1980s and 1990s.