By Aaron Blake - 03/16/10 10:00 AM EDT
Primary season should give us a better idea of whether a vote for the financial bailout is really a political death knell.
The 2008 bank bailout (aka Troubled Asset Relief Program) already sank one member of Congress in a primary, with supporter Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) stumbling over the issue in her loss to Gov. Rick Perry (R) two weeks ago.
But just a month earlier, another supporter, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), had relatively little trouble in a Senate primary.
1. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) — May 8 convention, possible June 22 primary
Bennett faces some very difficult circumstances, and while much of the Club for Growth’s early attacks have been focused on his healthcare ideas, Bennett’s greatest sin among conservatives might have been his bailout vote. The nature of the nominating process in Utah skews things toward the ultra-conservative party activists, and those are the people most upset at Bennett right now. He doesn’t face any terribly well-known challengers — attorney Mike Lee and former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater are in the mix — but if anyone besides Hutchison goes down on this issue, it’s probably Bennett.
2. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) — May 18 primary, June 8 runoff
The front-runners in both Senate primaries in Arkansas have the unholy distinction of having voted for the bailout, with Lincoln voting yes in the Senate and Boozman following suit in the House. Recently, it became state Sen. Gilbert Baker’s first line of attack on Boozman, while Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has spent much of his first few ads tying Lincoln to Wall Street. Don’t forget, the bailout is about as popular with liberals as it is with conservatives. If either Baker or Halter can pull off an upset, the bailout will be what we’ll be talking about the day after.
3. Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) — May 18
There’s a lot that could bring down Kanjorski, but if he goes this cycle, the bailout will have plenty to do with it. Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O’Brien is running the most competitive primary challenge to an incumbent Democrat in the country, and the bailout has been front-and-center. Unlike with other bailout supporters, though, Kanjorski has actually defended his vote. And perhaps he has no choice, as the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets. We’ll see how that turns out. If he makes it through the primary, the general election won’t be a cinch either, with 2008 opponent Lou Barletta waiting in the wings.
4. Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) — May 4
Democrats began hitting Coats on Monday over disclosures that showed he lobbied on the bailout for Chrysler’s parent company. Coats’s campaign is denying that Coats was an active participant in Chrysler’s bailout effort, but it’s a made-for-TV revelation. Coats is a heavy favorite in the GOP Senate primary, but former Rep. John Hostettler and state Sen. Marlin Stutzman now have some big-time ammunition. Still, if Coats makes it the general election, the attack is likely to be mitigated somewhat in a likely match-up against bailout-supporting Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D).
5. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) — Aug. 3
The gubernatorial candidate has shown some promise, including surging to a lead over state Attorney General Mike Cox in the most recent polls of the GOP primary. But if Hoekstra can really harness momentum and starting putting some distance between himself and the field, he will (a) need more money and (b) start learning what it’s like to defend the bailout day-in and day-out. He’s already gotten a taste: A third-party group ran ads last month attacking Hoekstra on the bailout, and his opponents are broaching the subject in debates now. Hoekstra is a cool customer, but this one requires plenty of explaining.
6. Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) — June 8 primary, June 22 runoff
From day one, Barrett has been getting hammered for his bailout vote in his gubernatorial campaign, including some recent ads run against him by the conservative group Americans for Job Security. Now Barrett is fighting back. He has launched a statewide TV ad buy responding to the attacks using the money he had left in his congressional campaign account. Still, the issue isn’t likely to help him emerge in a crowded field, where state Attorney General Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer look like the early favorites.
7. Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) — June 8 primary, June 22 runoff
Much more so than Barrett, Inglis has done plenty to inflame the conservative wing of his party, including opposing the troop surge in Iraq. He survived that; the bailout, he may not. Inglis faces prosecutor Trey Gowdy and state Sen. David Thomas in a race that could require a runoff. If those two can latch on to the same kind of bailout criticism that Barrett is weathering, Inglis is in trouble. And the two-week runoff would be all about the bailout.
8. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — Aug. 24
We won’t know about this one for a while, but much of former Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s (R-Ariz.) hopes rest on public outcry over the bailout. McCain even said last month that he was “misled” on the bailout — a position that suggests some political uncertainty on his part. At the same time, Tea Party types have yet to embrace Hayworth, either, with McCain attacking the former congressman as an avid earmarker. Hayworth needs to get a foothold on the bailout issue if he wants to have a chance.