Dems, GOP fight civil wars in primaries

Dems, GOP fight civil wars in primaries

Democrats are portraying the Tea Party movement as a civil war within the Republican Party, but they face a fight from the left in an election year full of anti-incumbent sentiment.


Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) noted Monday that “not just in the Senate races but also in the House races, you’re seeing the Tea Party phenomenon in a very real way.”

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Van Hollen pointed to several examples, including the Tea Party-backed Todd Lally’s win in a Republican primary in Kentucky and Randy Hultgren’s victory over Washington favorite Ethan Hastert in the race to face Rep. Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterHouse Democrat offers bill to let students with pot conviction retain federal aid New bill would restrict Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from lobbying Pelosi joins other Dem leaders in support of Chicago Symphony Orchestra strikers MORE (D-Ill.).

And Tea Party candidates don’t even have to win the primary to be problematic, Van Hollen argued. Their mere presence can cause a traditional Republican to adopt a more controversial stand. “It is causing the nominees to move way to the right,” he said.

But Democrats have their own ideological struggles playing out in several contested primaries.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) pointed to several contests where the favored Democrat is facing a challenge from a left-leaning rival.

The NRCC said Democratic primary contests are proof of “uncontrollable chaos” within the party.

For instance, in Minnesota, Democrat Maureen Reed and party favorite Tarryl Clark are battling it out to face Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannKlobuchar urges CNN town hall audience: 'That's when you guys are supposed to cheer, OK?' Michele Bachmann praises Trump: Americans will 'never see a more godly, biblical president' Will Biden lead a 'return to normalcy' in 2020? MORE (R-Minn.).

The party couldn’t rally behind a single nominee, despite its desire to unseat the two-term lawmaker.

And two Arkansas House races went to runoffs. Union-backed state Sen. Joyce Elliott is up against a more traditional Democrat, state House Speaker Robbie Wills, in Arkansas’s 2nd district runoff. Meanwhile, in the 1st district, progressive groups have gotten behind Chad Causey, who faces conservative Democrat Tim Wooldridge on June 8.

“The Democrats’ extensive primary trouble is proof that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi’s [D-Calif.] party remains in uncontrollable chaos as we edge closer to Election Day,” Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the NRCC, said in a statement.

There is no question there is energy on the GOP side. There are 643 more Republicans running this year than in 2008, according to figures compiled by the Federal Election Commission.

Meanwhile, there are 61 fewer Democrats running for office, although that could be explained by the party’s larger number of incumbents who don’t face primary challengers.

Van Hollen brushed off concerns about tough Democratic primaries.

“I’m not concerned about Democratic primaries on the House side,” said Van Hollen. “I think on the Democratic side you’ve seen a much more pragmatic approach from local party organizations.”

Van Hollen didn’t mention Hawaii, where former Rep. Ed Case (D) and state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D) split the vote in last Saturday’s special election, handing the victory to Republican Charles Djou. Both Democrats indicated they plan to run in the September primary preceding the November election.

The party discord could have been worse, Van Hollen added. “There are a lot of people who thought they might get primaries who in the end did not get primaries.”

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He cited Reps. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) and Zack Space (D-Ohio) as two examples. Both voted against the healthcare reform bill.

“These districts, people value that sort of independent [mindedness],” he said.

But the Ohio branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) isn’t as sympathetic to Space. The union is encouraging its members to “skip a space” on their November ballots and not support the two-term Democrat.

The SEIU is also in the process of collecting signatures to field Iraq war veteran Wendell Fant against Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), who voted against healthcare reform.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure his name appears on the ballot,” said Lori Lodes, an SEIU spokeswoman.

She said the union plans similar efforts in New York against Reps. Mike McMahon (D) and Michael Arcuri (D), both of whom voted no on healthcare. The union would support a candidate who would run under the Working Families Party banner, which could split the Democratic vote and hurt the party’s chances of keeping the GOP-leaning districts.

Republicans are particularly excited about 2008 nominee Richard Hanna’s (R) chances in a rematch against Arcuri. Hanna lost by fewer than 10,000 votes last cycle.

“All our work in 2010 is about accountability,” Lodes said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary in Rep. Paul Hodes’s (D-N.H.) district has divided along an ideological fault line.

Activist Ann McLane Kuster is getting support from liberal bloggers and groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has helped Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) force Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) into a June 8 runoff.

Kuster faces the well-funded 2002 Democratic nominee Katrina Swett for the Democratic nod. Waiting in the wings as the two women slug it out is former Rep. Charlie Bass (R), who is expected to be a tough opponent. Hodes is running for Senate.

Van Hollen admits primaries can be hard-fought campaigns.

“Those can be very lively races,” Van Hollen said, noting that the “strongest candidate emerges.”

“Having been somebody who went through a very contested Democratic primary in 2002, in many cases they can strengthen the ultimate nominee as long as they don’t totally beat up on each other in the process,” he said.