Intra-party feuds fuel Senate primary campaigns

Incumbent senators are hearing footsteps behind them, and in some cases it's their own party that wants them gone

Topics: 2010 Elections, War Room, Blanche L. Lincoln, D-Ark., Charlie Crist, John McCain, R-Ariz., Marco Rubio, U.S. Senate, Florida Senate Race,

Generally speaking, primaries are where ideological fights play out. And it looks like we may have some interesting battles to watch next year in a few key Senate races. Both parties are now split by fights over whether it’s better to support compromises to achieve shared goals or go down fighting. These divisions, in turn, are fueling some pretty heated show-downs.

There have been some noteworthy developments in all this intra-party Senate feuding lately. Here’s the latest:

  • In Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln is feeling pretty squeezed. A moderate Democrat who’s never had to worry too much about reelection before, Lincoln is currently surprisingly weak against third-tier Republican challengers. A new poll shows her leading state Sen. Gilbert Baker 41 percent to 39, and state Sen. Kim Hendren 45 to 29. But just in case her response to the threat is to go all Joe Lieberman on the president’s agenda, she’s got a fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, lurking on her left, threatening a primary challenge.
  • When Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he’d be running for Senate, he was immediately considered a shoo-in. That status seems to have melted away. A new poll has the moderate Republican leading the conservative he’ll be facing in the primary, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, by only 10 points. Rubio has fast become a favorite on the right, appearing on the cover of the National Review and getting the coveted keynote speaking slot at the CPAC conference. He’s tying Crist, a once-vocal supporter of the stimulus package, to President Obama in much the same way that, say, Ned Lamont once tied Sen. Joe Lieberman, formerly D-Conn., to then-President Bush.
  • Being an old party warhorse is no longer good enough to guarantee Sen. John McCain’s reelection in Arizona, apparently. Though the former presidential candidate has never been beloved by his state party’s base, his reelection has never really been in doubt. It probably isn’t now either, but it depends now on what a potential opponent decides. Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., is weighing a primary challenge, and McCain’s lead over Hayworth in one poll stands at just two points, 45 to 43. Hayworth was defeated for reelection in 2006, but clearly retains a connection with the Arizona conservative base. He was especially known for his hard-line stance on immigration, an issue that has dogged McCain among Republicans for years.

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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