From National Journal Hotline:
The Tea Party movement shook up the Congressional campaign landscape in 2010, electing a slew of unconventional candidates, pushing Republican candidates rightward, all while upsetting a few establishment favorites in the process.
But the next month could prove to be even more consequential for the movement, with major Senate primaries coming up, pitting conservative favorites against candidates backed by the GOP establishment. Already Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., is looking like the underdog against Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the state’s May 8 primary. Meanwhile, three other insurgent conservatives are looking to pull off upsets by winning their party’s nomination in Texas, Utah, and Nebraska.
If the conservative favorites pull off upsets in these races, the tea party could have more influence than they did two years ago, since the GOP nominees in these conservative-minded states would be favored to win the general election. In 2010, Tea Party favorites Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell and Ken Buck all won primaries but faced trouble with a general electorate in the swing states they were running in.
But if Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, fends off a persistent primary challenger, Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst asserts his organizational advantages, and Attorney General Jon Bruning can prevail despite outside groups spending money on behalf of his opponent, there will have been many missed opportunities for Tea Party activists.
The Club for Growth is taking flight in Nebraska Tuesday, marking their first foray into the GOP Senate primary there.
A campaign strategist who tracks advertising purchases relays that the anti-tax organization has placed a two-week buy in the Lincoln and Omaha markets totaling $151,500.
While the source did not have information about the content of the ad, the assumption is that it will include negative messaging against front-running Attorney General Jon Bruning, potentially about his record on taxes.
The Club is backing state treasurer Don Stenberg, who is lagging behind Bruning by double-digits five weeks before the May 15 primary.
Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, another backer of Stenberg, is also expected to pour money into the state in the coming days and weeks.
From The Week:
Is the Senate up for grabs?
Many Republicans think it is, and are quietly arguing that their odds of success there are higher than in defeating the incumbent president, Barack Obama. As a result, they’re urging party operatives to focus their energies on the attainable goal of winning a Senate majority, rather than focus too heavily on the presidential race. Democrats currently have only a slim, 53–47 majority in the Senate, and of the 33 seats being contested this year, 10 are currently held by Republicans and 23 by Democrats. Ten sitting senators are retiring, the highest number since 1996, and seven of them are Democrats. Even if Obama is re-elected, some Republicans argue, Republican majorities in both houses of Congress could block the president’s initiatives, stop him from appointing liberal judges or other officials, and exert real influence over the national agenda. “I think this election is more about the Senate than the presidency,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.). “If we don’t have a majority with a strong conservative voice in the Senate and a majority in the House, then it doesn’t matter what we have in the White House.”
How could the Republicans win a majority?
The party needs to pick up a net total of four seats, and its likeliest gains are seats now held by Democratic senators in traditionally red states. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Kent Conrad of North Dakota are retiring this year, and the GOP has good chances in open elections in these conservative states. In Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown is considered vulnerable to Tea Party–endorsed Josh Mandel, and in Florida, Bill Nelson faces a popular opponent in Rep. Connie Mack. Republicans are also targeting seats in Virginia, New Mexico, and Hawaii, where Democratic senators are retiring. Of these, Republicans have the best odds in Virginia, where former Republican Gov. George Allen is running neck-and-neck with former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.
Could the GOP retain all 10 of its contested seats?
That’s unlikely. Democrats see some opportunities of their own in November. Republicans face a tough challenge in trying to hold onto the Maine Senate seat of retiring moderate Olympia Snowe; the race’s current front-runner, independent Angus King, is likely to caucus with the Democrats. And while polls currently give Sen. Scott Brown (R–Mass.) a healthy lead in a tough re-election battle against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, she has a formidable fund-raising advantage as a nationally known consumer advocate and opponent of big banks. In Nevada, the Republican incumbent, Dean Heller, appointed after scandal-plagued John Ensign resigned last year, faces a close race against Rep. Shelley Berkley. But with so few GOP seats in play, the Democrats have to retain most of the contested seats they now hold to remain in the majority.
How hard will that be?
The Democrats are vulnerable in several of these races. They had high hopes in Nebraska last month after Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic governor and senator, announced that he would seek Ben Nelson’s seat. But polls show Kerrey, a Vietnam veteran who has lived in New York for years, trailing Republican Jon Bruning, the state’s attorney general, by a 17-point margin. Democrats think they have a better chance in North Dakota, where former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp is running against Republican Rep. Rick Berg. Heitkamp has sought to tie Berg to the deeply unpopular House of Representatives. In fact, many of the new Republican candidates for Senate are current or recently departed members of Congress, and that could help Democrats. “Approval ratings right now are so abysmally bad, it has to rub off on members seeking higher office,” said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
As some of you may recall, shortly before New York City resident Bob Kerrey officially entered the race for U.S. Senate in Nebraska last month, the NRSC released a memo which ended with this….
- When Kerrey officially jumps into this race, the liberal establishment in D.C. will undoubtedly jump for joy, and some Washington political prognosticators may even buy the Democrats’ spin that this is a “game-changer.” We also expect that with his pro-choice, pro-Obama, and pro-cap-and-trade credentials firmly intact, the liberal establishment will also rush to help pad Kerry’s campaign war chest and he will have the resources needed to put a significant campaign structure in place. But the reality is that none of that will ultimately matter — Bob Kerrey isn’t just far more liberal than many of his friends in Washington – he also has far more serious electability problems than Ben Nelson ever did.
And as predicted, national Democrats relentlessly spun his entrance into the race and several media outlets even reported it as a positive shift in the Democrats’ direction as they fight to hold on to their Senate majority.
Given that, I wanted to point out what Public Policy Polling – a Democratic polling firm with a history of financially contributing to the DSCC – just reported a short time ago….
- PPP’s newest Nebraska Senate poll finds that Democrats are in a much worse position with Bob Kerrey as their candidate than they would have been with Ben Nelson….Kerrey trails the top 3 Republican contenders by double digits. He’s down 17 to Jon Bruning at 54-37, 14 to Don Stenberg at 52-38, and 10 to Deb Fischer at 48-38. In PPP’s last poll before he announced his retirement Ben Nelson trailed Bruning by only 4, Stenberg by 3, and actually led Fischer by 2. This does not appear to be one of those instances where a retirement left the party better off.
And left unsaid in PPP’s memo is that their poll findings come after Kerrey has spent tens of thousands of dollars in positive, statewide TV ads in an effort to re-introduce himself to voters in Nebraska.
For those of you who have followed PPP’s history of working endlessly to find silver linings for Democratic Senate candidates – at least months out from an election when they can’t necessarily be held to account on their numbers – one is left to wonder, if even PPP is coming to this conclusion just how bad are Bob Kerrey’s poll numbers?
From the Lincoln Journal-Star:
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has made good on his word to file a legal challenge over a federal health care mandate that he says coerces church-affiliated groups to subsidize birth control.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Bruning sought a permanent injunction of the regulation.
Joining him in the suit are the attorneys general of South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma, as well as Catholic Social Services, Pius X High School, Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America, Sister Mary Catherine of Lincoln and Catholic missionary Stacy Molai of Omaha.
Each would be affected by the rule, which comes as part of the health care reform law
“This regulation forces millions of Americans to choose between following religious convictions and complying with federal law,” Bruning said in a news release.
He called the regulation a violation of the First Amendment guaranteeing religious freedom, and he said it was “a threat to every American, regardless of religious faith.”
“We will not stand idly by while our constitutionally guaranteed liberties are discarded by an administration that has sworn to uphold them,” Bruning said.