Six questions about the GOP in the 2010 elections

Another political scientist takes a look at what journalists should ask about the Republicans in the midterms

Published May 3, 2010 12:04PM (EDT)

John Sides suggests some questions for reporters going out on the road to report on the midterm elections, and asks for other suggestions. Good topic.

What I think is interesting and important and hard to get a handle on are the effects (if any) of conservative dissent on the quality of GOP nominees this year. We'll wind up knowing a fair amount about this in statewide campaigns -- we know about Crist, and McCain, and Bennett, and we either know or will know about Rubio, Hayworth, and whoever the UT Senate nominee winds up being, if Bennett goes down. But presumably similar things are happening in dozens of House districts, and even more state legislative districts, around the nation. Or not; we really don't know. So, there are a number of things worth looking into:

1. How common are very conservative challenges to mainstream conservative candidates this year?  Is it easy to tell the two apart? Are challengers coming after GOP incumbents? What's happening in open seats?

2. What can we say, if anything, about the challengers? Are they longtime movement conservatives? Newly activated Tea Parties with little political experience? Experienced pols who are shifting to the right to advance their careers?

3. If and when the challengers become nominees, are they shifting to the center (as normal strategic politicians would usually do), or are they campaigning as extreme-as-possible conservatives?

4. What issues are such challenges bringing out? Are challengers social conservatives, or libertarians? Are they picking up on the Cheneyist agenda in foreign policy, including torture, or are they focused on the economy? 

5. How are experienced traditional conservatives (and incumbents, if relevant) handling such challenges? Do any of them take on Tea Party excessive rhetoric, or do they attempt to convince primary voters that they are just as conservative as their challengers? If the latter, and if they do win nominations, do positions that these candidates take in primaries cause them trouble in the fall campaign?

6. How are traditionally Republican-aligned local interest groups handling such situations?

Again, I think we've already heard plenty and will hear plenty more about statewide races, although even there I think there's more that could be developed. But below that level, I certainly have read very little so far, and I'd love to know more. Oh, and by the way, we probably need a better vocabulary for this; are the challengers insurgents? Strong conservatives? Tea Party activists? What about the incumbents and the mainstream conservative experienced pols, people such as Crist. Are they establishment conservatives?  Moderates? I think we need a bit more information before we figure out the correct labels.

I'll end the same way that John did: What else do we want to know?

By Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein writes at a Plain Blog About Politics. Follow him at @jbplainblog

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2010 Elections Academia Republican Party