Republicans in 2014 will have the good fortune to find four open Senate seats currently held by Democrats. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have all announced their retirement. Moreover, it is very possible Sen. Tom Johnson (D-S.D.) will join them.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee was upbeat on Thursday. Communications director Brad Dayspring issued a statement:
Over the last few months, the 2014 map has gone from sorta difficult to really tough for Senate Democrats. Politically, Senator Levin’s decision knocks a Democratic Senate already on defense far back on their heels and offers us a real pick up opportunity. Republicans can win in Michigan, as the Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General have proven. That is why we’ve been speaking to local officials and grassroots organizations in preparation for Senator Levin’s potential retirement, and now that groundwork will start to pay off.
Given their past performance in Senate races, however, the question on many conservatives’ minds is: Will Republicans blow their chances as they did in 2010 and 2012?
You will notice that, with the exception of South Dakota, none of the states with retiring Democratic senators is remotely red. (The closest is West Virginia, but that state has gone for liberal Democrats for Senate famous for bringing home the bacon.) Therefore, the voices in the grassroots and from Beltway bloggers who will be calling for a “real” conservative or a “full-spectrum” conservative of the type, say, who might win in North Carolina are setting the party up for failure. No matter how articulate he or she may be, if the person they have their heart set on appeals only to the tea party segment of the GOP, which is itself a minority in these states, the party purists will lose whatever chance they have to gain ground in the Senate in races with no Democratic incumbent. Until they understand a New Jersey Republican is not the same as an Arizona Republican, they’ll be working against their party’s interests.
Take Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who is so far to the right he got himself kicked off the budget committee and has been a stalwart “no” vote on virtually every significant budget deal. He is so eccentric that he was one of only two congressmen to vote against sanctions on North Korea. The representative the extremist Club for Growth (which specializes in losing winnable races by backing unelectable candidates) counts as the most conservative congressman is not going to win the Senate seat in Michigan. Period.
In Texas or South Carolina there is no reason not to go for a conservative firebrand in a primary, so long as that person is a skilled pol and can make a positive contribution to the party and country. The general electorate in such deep-red states isn’t going to be put off by right-wing views. In the states that will be open in 2014, however, a Republican from the far right begins the race conceding too much of the electorate in order to prevail.
Then there is the matter of vetting candidates, whatever their ideological flavor. Is the candidate disciplined, likable and media savvy? If not, forget him or her. Is the candidate prone to pontificate on his religious views, God’s views on rape or other topics likely to be characterized as inappropriate for a U.S. senator?
The party’s all-or-nothing gang will no doubt bristle at the notion that its standards must change according to jurisdiction. But of course they must, if one lives in the real world and wants to win races. That this is even a controversial position speaks volumes about the party’s recent troubles.