You need look no further than today’s headlines for a primer on why Republicans get themselves into trouble in national elections.
After years in which prominent Republicans courted her to run for the Senate, the popular Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) announced today that she will run for the Senate in 2014, when Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) may retire. She has statewide name recognition and a 70.27 lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union.
But lo and behold the Club for Growth — which backed such stellar (not!) Senate candidates as Richard Mourdock in 2012 and Sharron Angle in 2010 and losers like Mark Neumann (who did a good job beating up eventual nominee Tommy Thompson in the Wisconsin Senate primary) and Don Stenberg of Nebraska — comes out to blast Capito for voting for ”big government.”
It is unclear how many members the Club for Growth represents and how many, if any, are West Virginia voters. Among her supposed sins are voting for the budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), rather than the Republican Study Committee’s budget, and No Child Left Behind legislation, which numerous conservative Republicans supported. It is no wonder that, in a state that has routinely sent liberal Republicans to the Senate, Capito’s record would be not as conservative as a candidate from a deep-red state.
Close behind the Club for Growth was Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, which also backed Angle and duds Ken Buck in Colorado and Christine O’Donnell in 2010. Its spokesman groused that Capito has a “pro-government, pro-Washington voting record.”
Perhaps the tide may be turning on the groups that would rather fight than win. Brad Dayspring, a prominent Republican and former deputy chief of staff for House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), knows West Virginia and Capito well. (He was the communications director for Bush/Cheney 2000 in West Virginia, the first time a non-incumbent Republican won that state in over 70 years.) He told me (speaking on his own behalf) that the Club for Growth is making a big mistake: “It’s terrible. The club is trying to destroy her; the people who brought us Richard Mourdock.”
Dayspring said of Capito, “Shelley Moore Capito is a strong woman, a great person and a smart, savvy leader. She’s a strong voice for the people of West Virginia, which is why she is so well respected across the state. Folks in West Virginia are excited at the thought of having a woman like Shelley Moore represent them in the Senate.” [Update 5:45 p.m.] Dayspring added: “I understand the Club’s desire to elect conservatives and share in that goal. But it’s gotten to the point where it’s corrosive, self-defeating, and harming our party for the long-term. It is absurd in my view that some on the right would more quickly attack a fellow Republican in good standing in the House than the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee did.”
Now Capito doesn’t yet have any opposition, so it is not clear that popping off against her will gain these groups any mileage (other than donations from people certain that the “insiders” are going to do them in). But it is emblematic of the struggle Republicans will have in electing popular candidates well suited to their states and districts so long as the test, according to those with a loud megaphone, is ideological purity.