Republican Senate candidates want nothing to do with debt deal

at 02:59 PM ET, 08/02/2011

The debt-ceiling deal that just passed the Senate is a pretty big victory for Republicans. There are no tax increases, and the bill forces both immediate spending cuts and a trigger that ensures more cuts in the future. Yet Republican Senate candidates aren’t embracing it, a sign that they don’t expect the deal to play well on the campaign trail.

While 2012 presidential candidates have tried to avoid the issue, GOP Senate hopefuls have come out strongly in near-universal opposition. It seems that in both tough primary fights and tricky general election battles, conventional wisdom has it that it’s safer to just say no.

In a public memo, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) defended the deal and urged 2012 candidates to focus on Democrats in their criticisms.

“Many Senate Republicans, including myself, would have preferred to pass into law Cut, Cap and Balance,” he wrote. “Remind voters that the only obstacle preventing Congress from passing a Balanced Budget Amendment and sending it to the states, is the fact that there are too many Senate Democrats, and too few Senate Republicans,” he wrote.

Polling shows that voters are disgusted and annoyed by the way the debt negotiations have played out in Washington. Republican candidates appear to be betting that that won’t change.

On Thursday, five Senate Republicans voted for the deal, despite the fact that they are running for reelection in 2012. They were Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Roger Wicker (Miss).

Lugar’s primary opponent, Treasurer Richard Mourdock , came out against the plan. Rep. Joe Donnelly , the likely Democratic nominee in the Senate race, voted yes.

Only two Senate GOPers facing reelection opposed the deal: Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) — who is facing a likely primary challenge from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a “no” vote in the House — and Dean Heller (Nev.), who was appointed this year to replace John Ensign.

And it seems like the senators from Utah and Nevada may have taken the temperature of their fellow GOP candidates from the campaign trail.

In Virginia, for instance, in the open seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) is opposed to the deal in his battle against former Democratic governor Tim Kaine.

In Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), voted yes on Thursday, former Florida state representative Adam Hasner and former senator George LeMieux , facing each other in the primary, both oppose it.

In the open seat race to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, and former solicitor general Ted Cruz are all opposed to the debt deal. Another GOP candidate, Texas Railroad Commission Elizabeth Ames Jones, was the rare Republican outside Congress who supported the deal.

All three 2012 Nebraska Senate candidates — Attorney General Jon Bruning, state Sen. Deb Fischer, and former Attorney General Don Stenberg — are against it.

But they might not gain much traction since their target, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), cast his vote Thursday against the deal.

Missouri’s former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, who is challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), also came out early against the bill. Her primary opponent, Rep. Todd Akin, voted no.

The deal could become a real issue in the marquee Senate race, expected to be one of the most hotly-contested in the 2012 cycle, as McCaskill cast her vote in favor.

In Montana, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), who is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D) next year, voted no when the House cast its final vote on the debt deal. Tester cast his vote in the affirmative.

In New Mexico, former GOP Rep. Heather Wilson is against the plan as she runs for her state’s open Senate seat.

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who has not officially declared but is almost certainly running against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), has been vague about his position on the debt deal. Despite anger from some on the left, Brown voted in favor.

In a statement given to The Fix, Mandel said he “would have voted against the debt deal and in favor of the Cut, Cap and Balance plan."

There were a few notable defections on the Democratic side as well. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), perhaps fearing a primary challenge from the left, also voted no.

 
Read what others are saying