With control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs this November, a single seat may determine who has the majority. That’s why Republicans should find it disconcerting that two of their establishment lions have broken ranks and are backing Democratic candidates in competitive races.
The latest apostate is former senator John Warner of Virginia, who announced this week he is backing incumbent Democratic senator Mark Warner for reelection. He is thus giving the back of his hand to former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, a former George W. Bush adviser, who has a decent shot at winning and is no wild-eyed radical. Last year, Warner also endorsed the Georgia candidacy of Michelle Nunn, a Democrat, who is the daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, with whom Warner served in the Senate. He even attended a fundraiser on her behalf. Georgia Republicans who find themselves defending an open Senate seat in Georgia are furious since the Warner support allows Nunn to position herself as a bipartisan moderate.
Nor is Warner the only problem ex-senator the GOP has to contend with as it strives to assemble a team capable of winning a Senate majority. Former senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who lost his Senate GOP primary in 2012 to conservative Richard Mourdock and then declined to endorse him, has also endorsed Nunn and had his political PAC send her the maximum $5,000 contribution. Nunn praised Lugar for his “collaborative approach” and pledged to “follow this legacy in the U.S. Senate.”
Somehow I doubt that Michelle Nunn will be caught giving large donations to candidates of the opposite party if she is elected to the Senate. “Collaboration” only goes so far.
Tea-party Republicans are always being urged to become better team players, and not to risk electoral defeat by challenging incumbent GOP Republicans. It’s true that in 2012 Republicans such as Todd Akin in Missouri and Mourdock in Indiana were flawed candidates and cost the GOP those Senate seats (although Akin was not the favored candidate of tea-party groups in the primary). But establishment Republicans such as Representatives Denny Rehberg in Montana and Rick Berg in North Dakota managed to somehow lose Senate races in states that were easily carried by Mitt Romney. It would be best if both tea-party and establishment Republicans paid more attention to the viability of their candidates and made some compromises. But so far it seems all of the compromising is being asked of tea-party forces and very little is expected from the GOP establishment.