Q&A Friday #28: Why Don’t We See More Strong GOP Challenges To Incumbent Senators?

Question: “How about the notion of replacing liberal Republican Senators with conservative Republicans via the primary elections? It’s a great idea but doesn’t seem to happen. So I’m wondering why doesn’t it happen?” — bertd

Answer: Incumbent Senators have numerous enormous advantages over their challengers. They have high name recognition, find it easier to get press, are better at fund raising, and because of franking privileges, they can promote themselves to their constituents on the taxpayer’s dime.

So, most intraparty challengers are going to figure beating an incumbent is just too high of a mountain to climb. But, consider what happens if they decide to give it a go:

* Because the incumbent Senator is such a heavy favorite and is likely to defeat any challengers, the local Republican establishment will back him. So if a challenger decides to run, all local Republican heavies will try to steer him away from running and the challenger will hear things like: “We couldn’t support you if you ran against the Senator, so why don’t you wait two years and run for Lt. Governor? We’d be happy to back you then.”

* Local businesses and important community leaders may have already received favors from the sitting Senator, think he’s likely to win again, and may even prefer the guy already in office because the more seniority you have in Congress, the more influence you gain. So again, they’re going to probably back the incumbent.

* After all that, let’s say a strong challenger still decides to run. Well, then the Republican establishment — which will almost always back a RINO with a 90% chance of winning over a conservative with a 50% chance of winning — will really start working on the challenger.

Pat Toomey was giving Arlen Specter all he could handle in 2004 and then what happens? President Bush, Rick Santorum, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee all came out for Specter and he just edged out Toomey, a real conservative who would have had a decent shot of winning, in the primary.

This time around, the NRSC (which is an advertiser at RWN by the way) is actually running attack ads against moderate Republican Steve Laffey, who’s taking on Lincoln Chafee, the most liberal Senator in Congress, in the Rhode Island primaries (Here’s some free advice for the NRSC: If you’re wondering why your fund raising stinks, defending RINOs against more conservative Republicans has undoubtedly cost you a lot of donations).

Put it all together and you can see why there are so few credible Republican challengers who are willing to take on Republican incumbents.

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