Shutdown, Debt Crisis Fueling 2014 Primary Battles

Monday, 21 Oct 2013 04:15 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The tough battles over the federal shutdown will continue at the ballot boxes next year, when Republican incumbents will face challenges fueled by the party's division over it.

With tea party supporters rallying to have Washington's establishment in the House and Senate "primaried" out, and the upcoming fiscal fights in January for funding the government and in February for raising the nation's debt ceiling, the 2014 primaries are already gearing up, Politico reports.

In the House, nearly a dozen incumbent Republicans are facing primary challenges, and the upcoming funding battles will likely bring out more primary challengers. In some cases, tea party supporters will field their own candidates, while in other cases, "establishment" Republicans angered over the role of the tea party in the shutdown will find candidates.

The primary battles are also heating up in the Senate, where longtime Republican veterans like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham are being challenged by conservative opponents.

Races gathering the most attention include that in Kentucky, where McConnell is facing a strong challenge from tea party-supported businessman Matt Bevin. Another hotly contested race is going on in Idaho, where GOP Rep. Mike Simpson, an ally of House Speaker John Boehner, is facing a primary challenge by lawyer Bryan Smith.

It's not easy to win against an incumbent, however. Since 2010, only five House Republicans have lost their seats to non-incumbent challengers. But according to national polls, the GOP took a tough public opinion hit because of the shutdown, and lawmakers who thought their seats were safe may be in for a bumpy ride.

However, the tea party also took a major public opinion nosedive, according to a Pew Center poll released Oct. 16. That poll shows that nearly half of the public, 49 percent, has an unfavorable opinion of the tea party, while 30 percent has a favorable opinion.

The shutdown mess is boosting recruitment efforts among Democratic candidates, Politico reports. New York Rep. Steve Israel, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the shutdown and debt ceiling issues prodded more people to run for office.

For example, Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen has decided to try to unseat Republican Nevada Rep. Lee Terry. Festersen initially had said he wouldn't run, but Terry came under fire for answering “dang straight” when asked whether he would continue accepting pay during the shutdown.

The shutdown is also attracting Democrats with state or national profiles, such as James Lee Litt, who was director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Bill Clinton. Litt is eyeing the House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas.

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