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August 08, 2013 4:36 PM Primary Purges in ‘14

By Ed Kilgore

When you think about Members of Congress who might be vulnerable to a primary loss in 2014, it’s natural to think first of candidates for a Great RINO Hunt: “Establishment Republicans,” particularly in deep red states, who have run afoul of conservative activist wishes and must therefore be punished to set an example and move the House and Senate GOP caucuses another tick to the right.

But when you look at Shane Goldmacher’s listicle of 10 congressional incumbents most likely to lose a primary next year at National Journal, it only partly fills the bill.

For one thing, three members of the list are Democrats. One, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, was appointed to Daniel Inouye’s Senate seat against Inouye’s expressed dying wishes in favor of Schatz’ 2014 primary opponent, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. So he’s a natural target. Another, Rep. John Tierney of MA, looked weak in the 2012 general election (mainly because of scandals afflicting his family) in a heavily Democratic district, and could be taken out for the party’s benefit. A third, Rep. Mike Honda of CA, was unlucky enough to draw the attention of a well-funded up-and-comer with high-life political talent surrounding him (Ro Khanna).

Moving to the seven Republicans on the list, one’s just a screwup whose problems have nothing to do with RINOism: Rep. Scott DesJardins of TN, the antichoice pol whose seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time impregnating women and then encouraging them to have abortions. He’s also a physician who’s been reprimanded for sleeping with patients. GOPers want to take him out before he loses a general election.

Another target is the classic Accidental Congressman: Kerry Bentivolio of MI, who happened to be standing around and on the ballot when Thad McCotter abruptly resigned last year.

Of the four possible GOP purge targets on the list, one really does have a bullseye on his back: Rep. Mike Simpson of ID, who’s been targeted by the Club for Growth for RINOism, and has a strong opponent. The big question about Simpson is whether his buddy John Boehner will try to help him, and if so, whether that’s good or bad for him politically.

Then finally we have the three high-profile Senators whose re-election primaries are already looking like ideological death-matches. There’s Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who will benefit from the fact that some decidedly non-RINO allies (e.g., Rand Paul) will help him against carpetbagger Liz Cheney. There’s Mitch McConnell, whose race you probably already know about (though it was spiced up today when a tape was leaked of his campaign manager dissing him rather boldly). And then there’s South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who enters 2014 with gigantic sacks of money, good poll ratings, and three right-wing primary opponents hoping to knock him into a low-turnout runoff and then feast on his carcass.

I have to admit I don’t understand Graham’s political durability among Republicans in Secession-Land. Yes, he has a knack for regularly finding himself a red-hot partisan issue he can demagogue about for the pleasure of “the base” (Benghazi! Benghazi!). But everything else about him seems to scream “Primary Me!” Next door in Georgia, Saxby Chambliss was run right out of his Senate seat for a tenth of Lindsey’s heresies. I’d watch Graham’s former colleague Jim DeMint very closely as the 2014 landscape forms. If he vouches strongly for Graham, that may be all it takes to save him. If not, this race will for the time remain my own personal Upset Special for the ‘14 primaries.

We’ll revisit the listicle after the Fall Fiscal Follies, when some new Republican RINOs (according to the ever-changing definition) may be in trouble.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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