Congressional Republicans backing more insurgent primary candidates

A growing number of GOP members are bucking the party and backing non-establishment candidates in this year’s primary elections.

Many are feeling liberated, particularly after seeing Conservative Doug Hoffman drive centrist Republican Dede Scozzafava out of the New York special election.

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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has drawn the most attention for supporting Marco Rubio in Florida’s Senate race and Chuck DeVore in California’s. But now, other members of Congress are also backing candidates running against establishment favorites hundreds of miles away.

In Rep. Glenn Nye’s (D-Va.) district this week, two primary candidates running against national party-favored businessman Scott Rigell drew congressional endorsements. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) backed former Navy SEAL Scott Taylor, while Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) endorsed businessman Ben Loyola.

Also this week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) endorsed Rubio, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) endorsed former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.).

Nunes’s backing came as seven members of the state’s GOP delegation endorsed state Sen. Jeff Denham. Denham has been touted by the national GOP, while Pombo is seen as having severe electoral liabilities stemming from his 2006 loss in a neighboring district.

In spurning their party leaders, Burton, Diaz-Balart, Ryan and Nunes join Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who two months ago endorsed real estate developer Armando Gutierrez. Gutierrez, who is one of a number of Republicans challenging Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), has rubbed GOP leaders in Washington the wrong way.

The members’ reasons for endorsing the insurgent candidates vary from case to case. Nunes served alongside Pombo and is close with him, while Diaz-Balart and Loyola are both Cuban-Americans.

Diaz-Balart noted his common background with Loyola in announcing his endorsement.

“His family fled totalitarianism in Cuba for a life of freedom in America,” said Diaz-Balart, who fled with his own family from Cuba. “I know Ben Loyola will be a key voice as we work to strengthen the free enterprise system to create jobs for the American people.”

It’s not the first time Diaz-Balart has shunned the establishment with his endorsement. He and his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), both recently withdrew their endorsements from Rubio’s opponent, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R). They haven’t backed Rubio, but they and other conservative Republicans in Congress might be tempted to do so in the coming months.

Rep. Ryan on Wednesday joined Sens. DeMint and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) to become the first out-of-state House member to take the bait. (Florida Republican Reps. Jeff Miller and Ginny Brown-Waite have also backed Rubio.)

In announcing his support, Ryan emphasized conservatism, which has been the main line of attack on Crist.

“Marco Rubio has proven he is exactly the type of consistent, principled conservative the Republican Party needs to ensure the relationship between the federal government and the individual is one that maximizes freedom and prosperity,” Ryan said.

Ryan also sent a $2,500 contribution to Rubio through his political action committee, while Burton has promised to hold a fundraiser for Taylor.

Burton’s situation is particularly interesting, considering he faces a difficult primary to hold his seat this year. By alienating national party leaders with such an endorsement, he could conceivably alienate people who could help him win renomination this year. At the same time, the national party is unlikely to spend money on an incumbent’s primary in a safe district.

Lincoln Diaz-Balart has also been targeted, in his case, by Democrats. But his support for fellow Cuban-American candidates is not all that surprising, and he is not likely to upset party leaders for it. Rubio is Cuban-American.


Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) said GOP members are exercising their independence.

“Just like primary voters, House Republican members have the freedom to choose who they feel is the best candidate to take on Democrats in these races," Lindsay said.