2014 GOP Primary War Widens

Thad Cochran's decision to run in Mississippi sets up one of many 2014 Establishment-vs.–Tea Party primaries

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Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call / Getty Images

Sen. Thad Cochran arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy lunch July 10, 2012

Thad Cochran, a six-term Senator with a shock of white hair, is the spitting image of the Republican establishment. A seasoned appropriator from deep red Mississippi, Cochran is the kind of legislator who in a different era would have treated his perch as a lifetime appointment. So it was telling that many Republicans greeted his Dec. 6 announcement that he will stand for re-election next year with surprise.

Cochran, 76, raised just $53,000 in the third quarter, and he blew past a self-imposed deadline to announce whether he would run again. More important, he was facing a primary fight against a Tea Party upstart financed by a passel of hard-charging national conservative groups.

But Cochran plunged in, promising to “run hard and be successful.” And now the GOP primary in Mississippi has become the latest in a slate of Senate contests in 2014 that will test whether gold-plated members of the Republican establishment can fend off challenges from activists intent on ushering a new crop of combative conservatives into a chamber better known for comity.

(MORE: Establishment Republicans Declare War on the Tea Party)

The push to depose the GOP’s old guard is taking place across the South and the Great Plains, in the strongholds of the party. In Kentucky, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is facing a challenge from conservative businessman Matt Bevin. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee also face primary fights next year, while in Georgia at least eight Republicans are vying for the seat being vacated by the retirement of GOP Senator Saxby Chambliss. In Kansas, a Tea Party–backed radiologist named Milton Wolf is challenging Senator Pat Roberts. Up in Wyoming, conservative stalwart Mike Enzi is embroiled in a nasty fight with Liz Cheney.

Cochran’s opponent, a Mississippi state senator named Chris McDaniel, boasts the backing of a trio of national conservative groups: the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project. These organizations are ready to pour cash across the electoral landscape in an effort to retire Republican incumbents and usher in a cadre of ideologues untainted by Washington.

The Club is a familiar factor in GOP primaries, known for leveraging its roster of big-dollar donors to lavish cash on antitax challengers. The other outfits are newer, smaller players who are gaining renown for their penchant for picking fights with party stalwarts. But they are tapping into a wellspring of grassroots anger toward the GOP elite to soak up online dollars. “The Establishment is the Establishment because it controls the money,” says the Senate Conservatives Fund’s Matt Hoskins, who is trying to change that.

The Establishment-vs.–Tea Party showdown has also split GOP donors, some of whom find themselves torn between loyal but imperfect incumbents and newcomers with promise. “Mike Enzi is about as fine a man as you’re going to find. He’s smart, kind, thoughtful, and has been a good Senator not only for Wyoming, but for the United States,” Foster Friess, a wealthy Wyoming investor who bankrolled Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign in 2012, wrote in an e-mail to TIME. Nonetheless, he’s backing Cheney: “I’m a big fan of more youth in our legislative bodies and passing the baton to the next generation of leaders.”

(MORE: Republicans Debate: Conventions or Primaries?)

And then there’s Mississippi. “Throughout his over 40 years in Washington, Senator Thad Cochran has done some good things for Mississippi, but he’s also done some bad things,” Club for Growth president Chris Chocola said in a statement that cited, among other apparent apostasies, Cochran’s taste for pork and his votes to raise the debt limit and confirm Democratic judicial appointees.

At the same time, Cochran is a highly popular figure in Mississippi, with a 79% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. And while he boasts the backing of national conservative groups, McDaniel has a chilly relationship with members of the Magnolia State’s political establishment. In November, a survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling put Cochran’s lead at 6 points; analyst Tom Jensen argued the incumbent was in “serious danger” of losing.

The outcomes of these primaries are unlikely to tip the balance of power in the Senate, because they are being fought in some of the nation’s reddest states. But they have the potential to alter the complexion of the Republican caucus if some of the upstarts can unseat more pragmatic incumbents. “2014 is going to be a heck of a primary season,” says Drew Ryun, a top official at the Madison Project. “There are going to be a lot of punches thrown.”

22 comments
valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

IN CAPS FOR THE ELDERLY......DEFEND THE WEAK.....KNIGHT TEMPLARS.....


LIKE IN ROME......SENATORS SERVING FOR SO MANY YEARS.......BECOME ......DEADWOOD.....BOTH ON THE DEMOCRAT AND THE REPUBLICAN SIDE......NOW........IT IS TIME FOR THE TRUE CONSERVATIVES....TO DUMP OUT THESE OLD    "MUSTACHE PETES".......AND INJECT NEW BLOOD INTO THE PARTY......THEN ....WE CAN WAR ON THE DEMOCRATS


FOR GOD.....FOR COUNTRY.....FOR THE CONSTITUTION.......


JUST LIKE TONY MONTANA (AL PACINO) SAID IN THE MOVIE SCARFACE.....THOSE COMMUNISTS (DEMOCRATS).....THEY TELL YOU WHAT TO DO.....


VALENTINE....COMEDIAN.....LOL....LOL...

grape_crush
grape_crush

Meh. The crazy Tea-GOPers are there to make the establishment Republicans appear reasonable. Policy-wise, there's little difference between the two.

Doesn't matter which one makes it past the primary. The Wingnut Welfare system will be right there, asking whoever the GOPer candidate is how much to write the check for.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

The Senate hasn't been as poisoned by the Tea Party and is consequently more functional than the House.  It would be a disaster for our country if both chambers are as goofy and destructive as the House.  And it's a long time between voting a Senator out, which increases the damage.  

ArmandWinter
ArmandWinter

McDaniel... another Bagger and another obstructionist.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

No candidate Dem or Repub has to bow out just because they are being challenged.

SmoothEdward1
SmoothEdward1

I never thought I would see the day when I was hoping for a Thad Cochran win. I don't agree with him on most things but at least he's rational and grown up.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Over Thanksgiving I had a nice opportunity to talk politics with my brother in law. He's among the thousands who would be delighted to vote Republican except for that little insanity problem they have to work through.


One of the problems with having ridiculous amounts of money is that it's actually a challenge to find ways to spend it fast enough. Hence 'Superyachts" and 'The Club For Growth" The object of the game has nothing to do with guiding policy. It's all about trying to feel powerful by throwing money around.

wjr123
wjr123

Time is still in business? Who would have guessed! Well, I suppose the Rats need something to read besides Puffington Host and and Moonbat.org.

chippy1
chippy1

Bow out? Why should he want to bow out when its becoming all the rage to stay in office, until you die on the House floor, or until you're so senile you show up in caucus in Depends.

The American Imperial Congress is now almost as the same as the Roman Senate, once elected you are there for life. Don't believe for one minute that these people aren't addicted to the power that they have upsuped from the American people for their own ego and greed. God help us if they have to let in someone new, with different viewpoints every so often. It's true their are no term limits, but there is also no reason that our representatives have to keep their positions for a lifetime.  

sacredh
sacredh

The Tea Party has cost the GOP several senate seats over the last 5 years. As a liberal, I disagree strongly with the goals of the Tea party. OTOH, the civil war between the establishment GOP and the Tea Party has been a godsend for my party.

jmac
jmac

The more publicity the better.   Everyone needs to know that the GOP is controlled by it's platform and the Tea Party is that platform.    If Liz Cheney wins in Wyoming, it should be a wake-up call for the nation.   A nightmare wake-up call.  A "youthful" fresh face, she isn't.  She's her dad.  A nightmare.  

JamesGordon1
JamesGordon1

Let them  shoot  themselves in the  foot  trying  to  get  religious fanatics  in  power , I  no longer  vote  republican .And if I  can  convince  my  family and  friends  not  to  vote  for  them I  will >My  family and  friends  know  i  supported  republicans  over  the  years , They are  still  shocked   that I   stopped  voting  .I  tell  them  W    cured  me  LOL

felman87
felman87

Well, at least this'll be an interesting primary season. 

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Why? Which part are you denying. The fact that the Tea Party is driving moderate Republicans to Vote Dem or that the folks funding Club For Growth don't actually care much for their country?


ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

@wjr123 Why are you here wjr123 if you feel we are below your intellectual level.  Feel free to go to Red State where your wisdom will be appeciated.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

More important question, Is the GOP still in business?

wjr123
wjr123

Sticks and stones, ladies.

tom.litton
tom.litton

First i fail to see how a blog post has anything to do with this.  Neither tea party, nor either candidate was mentioned. 


Second, it is stupid to even suggest he be dishonorably discharged for expressing an opinion.  Just because his opinion differs from yours, doesn't mean he should be stripped of his freedom of speech.


Third, i don't see any qualifications of yours on any of these matters, so by the logical argument you are making i shouldn't even listen to them right?

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@mantisdragon91 Notice the direct denial of reality. I describe a real person who happens to have had a brilliant career as a surgeon and a professor, and all the sudden some online clown knows better than I do what this person thinks. 


Please note. Online clowns are precisely the problem with today's Republican party.




mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Sure lets put a clueless bigot in power instead. Brilliant reasoning Dorian.