By Chris Cillizza
Monday, August 10, 2009
Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation to the Supreme Court last Thursday revealed the lingering concerns that many Republican officials and aspiring GOP candidates carry about angering their party's base.
Nine Republicans crossed party lines to back Sotomayor, a total that included four senators -- Judd Gregg (N.H.), Mel Martinez (Fla.), George V. Voinovich (Ohio) and Christopher S. Bond (Mo.) -- who are retiring in 2010 and, as a result, have little need to worry about the political implications of such a vote.
Of the high-profile Republicans running for the Senate in 2010, only one -- former representative Pat Toomey (Pa.) -- supported Sotomayor's confirmation.
Why the reluctance?
For many senators who decided to oppose her, the choice was based on a deeply-held belief about the proper approach for a judge to take toward the law.
But, it's hard not to see politics in some senators' positioning.
Take Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.), for example, who, whether or not she believed Sotomayor to be qualified for the bench, had to vote against the nomination to preserve her conservative bona fides in advance of next year's primary fight against Gov. Rick Perry.
The primary calculation is also apparent in the decisions of Senate candidates like former Connecticut representative Rob Simmons and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and potential candidate New Hampshire businessman Ovide Lamontagne -- all three of whom opposed Sotomayor's confirmation.
Simmons and Crist are the front-runners in their respective Senate bids but have to worry about other candidates running to their ideological right. Supporting Sotomayor would have left both open to attacks on their conservative credentials that would have been difficult to rebut.
For Lamontagne, who is weighing a run against former state attorney general Kelly A. Ayotte, his opposition to Sotomayor served as an affirmation that he was the "true conservative" in the primary field. Ayotte did not take a position on Sotomayor.
Doubt that politics played a role in some of these decisions? Take a look at some of the GOP Senate candidates who didn't offer a position on Sotomayor -- Reps. Mark Steven Kirk (Ill.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.), as well as former representative Rob Portman (Ohio). What does that trio have in common? None of them faces a serious primary fight -- yet.Ooh, More Fun for 2010
The recent decisions by Hutchison and Rep. Joe Sestak (D) to leave their current posts for contested primary fights ensures that the Texas governor's race and the Pennsylvania Senate race, respectively, will be the two premier intraparty battles of 2010.
Neither announcement came as a huge surprise.
Hutchison had long been expected to challenge Perry for the governor's seat but made it clear last week that she would resign her Senate seat in the fall to focus on what will be, without doubt, the nastiest primary of the 2010 election cycle.
Sestak, too, had been hinting about his plans to run for months. But his formal announcement earlier last week that he will indeed take on party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter next year sets up a fascinating contest that will test the limits of Democratic loyalty to President Obama and Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa.), among others.
While the primaries in Texas and Pennsylvania stand out, there are lots of other terrific intraparty squabbles on the horizon. Here's a look at the five best:
5. Kentucky Senate (Democratic primary): Just when we thought Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and state Attorney General Jack Conway were going to play nice, they went to "Fancy Farm" -- a yearly political picnic of sorts -- and proved us dead wrong. Mongiardo sought to turn the race into a class war by deriding Conway as running to represent the "silver spoon crowd." Conway fought back, sort of, by referring to himself as "one tough son of a bitch." (He later apologized for his use of profanity but not before his comments spawned a hilarious parody.) This is going to be good.
4. California governor (Republican primary): Handicapping this race is next to impossible. Supporters of former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman point to her fundraising success, her wealth and her business profile as evidence that she is a national star in the making. Backers of state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who also is wealthy, argue that Whitman is all show and no substance, and that voters will see through her consultant-heavy campaign. Still others believe that neither Whitman nor Poizner is the sort of candidate that California Republican primary voters are looking for and believe that a true conservative could get in the race and win the primary.
3. California governor (D): The story lines in the Democratic gubernatorial race are the stuff of great fiction. One candidate is running for the job he held more than three decades ago and has spent the intervening years running for president (three times) and the Senate (once). The other candidate is young and charismatic, and has made national headlines for his aggressive advocacy of gay marriage as well as for problems in his own marriage. Whether state Attorney General Jerry Brown or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom winds up as the nominee, the path each man takes promises to be riveting.
2. Pennsylvania Senate (D): Smart Pennsylvania insiders rightly dismiss polling that shows Specter with a wide lead over Sestak. This race will tighten as Sestak plays up the doubts that many Democratic primary voters already carry about Specter. The issue for Sestak is whether he can overcome the financial and organizational advantages that Specter enjoys. Machine politics still matter in Pennsylvania Democratic primaries and the machine is squarely behind Specter.
1. Texas governor (R): The race that Texas Republicans have been waiting years to see now (finally) appears as though it will come to pass. Hutchison's announcement that she will resign her Senate seat means she is "all in" for this governor's race. National operatives -- particularly on Hutchison's side -- are already descending on the state in expectation of a primary for the ages. This race has everything: big stakes, two candidates who don't like each other, lots of money and good barbecue.
12 days: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty headlines a fundraising dinner for the Republican Party of Florida. And, yes, he is running for president.
12 days: Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee hosts national house parties to make calls in support of Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell. And, yes, Huckabee is running for president.