Primaries in House Reflect Battle for Republican Party's Ideological Future

By Weisman, Jonathan | International Herald Tribune, November 12, 2013 | Go to article overview

Primaries in House Reflect Battle for Republican Party's Ideological Future


Weisman, Jonathan, International Herald Tribune


In the battle over the party's ideological future, a number of races could alter its complexion in the House, and the federal government's ability to function.

Art Halvorson makes for an unlikely Republican primary challenger to a six-term incumbent like Representative Bill Shuster. He is a newcomer to this quiet corner of south-central Pennsylvania who retired here after a long Coast Guard career.

But in the throw-out-the-bums anger percolating in the election cycle now under way, Mr. Halvorson, 58, believes he might have a shot to win this seat, which Mr. Shuster's father first won in 1972 and which has been in the family ever since. The small-government philosophy of the Tea Party movement might have been a major force in the Republican Party in elections to the House of Representatives in 2010 and 2012, but this time a less ideological but more emotional sentiment may prevail: clean house.

"People don't remember a time before the Shusters," Mr. Halvorson said. "They created an aristocracy, and people are so accustomed to that's the way politics is done around here, they don't see how he can be toppled. I've got to show leadership's what's important, not seniority, and longevity is not leadership."

The outcome of this and at least 17 other primaries next year may have a negligible impact on Republican control of the House. Few would suggest that Pennsylvania's Ninth Congressional District is in danger of slipping into Democratic hands.

But in the heated battle over the ideological future of the Republican Party, races like this one could alter the complexion of the Republican caucus in the House -- and the federal government's ability to function in President Obama's final years in office. The recent government shutdown, seared into memory by the filibuster of a Tea Party leader, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, is a fresh topic.

"That's the narrative everybody wants to know: What's the Republican Party going to look like after Ted Cruz Tea Party people get done with it?" Mr. Halvorson asked, eschewing the Tea Party label even as he adopts many of its campaign tropes. "Who's going to have the ascendancy?"

House Republicans are facing an onslaught of primary challenges. But unlike the past two election cycles, there is almost no ideological pattern.

"It's an offshoot of the decline in competitive districts because of redistricting," said David Wasserman, a House analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "There are fewer fights to pick with the other party, so there are going to be more fights within your party."

Representatives Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee -- all Tea Party Republicans -- are threatened by potential challengers backed by business groups and their more traditional Republican allies. Those challenges are from a new breed of candidate hoping to "professionalize" a House Republican caucus whose image has been battered by the turmoil in Washington.

From the other direction, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, has drawn a credible Tea Party challenger: Dennis Linthicum, chairman of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners.

"Somebody has to get serious about looking at spending, the growth of government, the regulatory aspects that discourage business and risk-taking," said Mr. Linthicum, who called Mr. Walden a "statist" who "would prefer to keep government in the size, shape and fashion in which it currently exists."

In some sense, the fight for the heart of the House Republican caucus began last Tuesday in Alabama, when Bradley Byrne, a former state senator backed by businesses, fought off a firebrand supported by the Tea Party to win a special election in Mobile.

In Tennessee, Mr. DesJarlais has maintained his Tea Party bona fides since the 2010 wave swept him into Congress. But the taint of scandal has followed him since divorce records exposed accusations of violent behavior as well as a telephone transcript indicating that as a practicing doctor he had an affair with a patient and encouraged her to get an abortion. …

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