GOP headaches grow as infighting roils Senate primaries
Republican frustrations are growing as multiple GOP Senate primaries have descended into infighting, threatening the party’s chances of retaking the upper chamber in November.
In recent weeks, Senate primaries in Missouri and Ohio have turned volatile. In Missouri, the ex-wife of Senate candidate Eric Greitens (R) has accused him of abusing her and their children during the marriage. Multiple GOP candidates running in that race have since called on Greitens, the state’s former governor, to drop out.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, a candidate forum nearly came to blows when former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and businessman Mike Gibbons got into each other’s faces over work experience. Other states like Pennsylvania are also experiencing rocky primaries.
The turbulence has raised concerns that the winners of these primaries could come out bruised, giving Democrats an advantage in the general election.
“Who knows what the shitshow this week will be,” said one Ohio-based Republican strategist, referring to the state’s Senate primary.
The fallout in that race comes after Gibbons accused Mandel of “never having worked in the private sector.” That led Mandel to walk over to a standing Gibbons and shout in his face: “Two tours in Iraq, don’t tell me I haven’t worked!”
Over the weekend, Mandel released an ad featuring a Gold Star mother, whose son was killed in Iraq, criticizing Gibbons.
Meanwhile, former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken has accused Gibbons of sexism, citing comments in which he said she had “barely worked” before she became chair of the Stark County Republican Party.
Timken’s campaign has sought to paint her as the adult in the room. In a press call last week, her campaign’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway referred to the men in the race as “arrogant, temperamental men behaving badly” while describing Timken as “restrained and graceful.”
On the same call, Timken warned that the primary’s infighting would give Democrats ammo for the general election.
“Friday and Monday night’s antics, the only person who really won was Tim Ryan,” Timken told reporters, referring to the Democratic congressman running for Senate. “What happens if Mike Gibbons is the nominee? The Democrats will gladly pour 50 million dollars into the race to defeat him and he has given them much fodder.”
The Gibbons campaign hit back in a statement to The Hill, suggesting that Gibbons was being attacked because of his lead in the polls.
“It’s sad to see Republicans take on the talking points of the left when it’s convenient for their campaign,” said Gibbons’s senior adviser Samantha Cotten. “These are desperate attempts by losing campaigns to win over voters through a false victim narrative. Mike Gibbons has the momentum in this race because his message is resonating with voters. Our opponents will continue to smear Mike, as he is a clear contender in this race.”
However, Ohio Republicans say the infighting will ultimately not be that damaging in a year where the national GOP has the wind at its back.
“Just the generic ballot alone tells me if you have an R by your name in Ohio, you’re going to be at an advantage in this race,” the Ohio-based GOP strategist said. “Ultimately, Ohio Republican voters will circle the wagon around the Republican nominee.”
Republicans also argue that the races in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania cannot be compared to the race in Missouri, given the seriousness of the allegations against Greitens.
“When you’re talking about allegations of abuse against a spouse and children, it calls more into question than your political capabilities and your viability as a candidate. It calls into question who you are as a man,” said one Republican strategist.
While Greitens has denied the allegations against him, his front-runner status in the race is now in jeopardy, with high-profile Republicans in and out of Missouri distancing themselves from him.
Retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), whom Greitens is running to succeed in the Senate, said last week that the former governor should drop out. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has endorsed Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) in the race, also called for Greitens to exit the race.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, did not call on Greitens to drop out but called the allegations “pretty disturbing.”
Hartzler, the only woman running in the primary, called on Greitens to drop out and seek “immediate professional help” in a statement last week. She has already gone on the offensive against Greitens, with her first ad of the race including a reference to 2018 allegations that he had an affair with his hairdresser.
Depending on whether Greitens drops out, the allegations stand to have ramifications not only in Missouri but across the country.
“It’s not just a Missouri problem, it’s a national problem because if Greitens were to win, the nominee in Ohio, the nominee in Arizona, the nominee in Pennsylvania for Republicans is going to have answer a lot of questions about him,” the GOP strategist said. “That’s the real danger.”
Regardless, Democrats say the contentious primaries are playing into their hands, providing a contrasting image going into the general election.
“What we have is Democratic candidates and incumbents who are talking to voters about lowering costs, about the issues that voters care about, while the Republican side is having this slug fest,” one Democratic strategist told The Hill. “The longer this infighting happens, the more bruised their candidates will be on the other side.”
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