From 2010 to 2012, the Republican Party lost five very gettable Senate seats by fielding Tea Party candidates whose hardcore conservative views (think Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments) and general wackiness (think Christine O'Donnell's "not a witch" ad) turned off general-election voters. Factoring in President Obama's resounding re-election victory, many within the Republican Party are calling for moderation on a range of issues, from economic to social policy. But it turns out the party may be doomed to repeat its very recent electoral woes, with conservative groups flashing switch blades of contempt for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who on Monday announced her intention to run in 2014 for the Senate seat long held by Democrat Jay Rockefeller.
Capito, the daughter of former West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore, just won her seventh House term with a commanding 70 percent of her district's vote. She is widely considered to be the Republican Party's most well-known elected official in West Virginia, a state that has turned increasingly red during Obama's tenure. Super-early polls show that Capito has a decent shot at winning the 2014 Senate race, and an even better one if the 75-year-old Rockefeller decides to retire.
The problem, says David Catanese at Politico, is that Capito "is unquestionably moderate: She supports abortion rights, has voted to extend unemployment benefits, and is in favor of the State Children's Health Insurance Program." She also voted to bail out General Motors and Chrysler, as well as the mortgage financing companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Influential conservative groups were quick to voice their outright opposition to a Capito candidacy. “Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork, and bigger government,” said Chris Chocola, head of the anti-tax group Club For Growth. "Congresswoman Capito is not someone we can endorse because her spending record in the House is too liberal," said Matt Hoskins, the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund founded by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, said that, given Capito's measly conservative score of 61 percent, she could not automatically count on the group's support.
"Already some in the party are feeling deja vu," say Benjy Sarlin and Evan McMorris-Santoro at Talking Points Memo. These were the exact same groups that helped propel the disastrous candidacies of O'Donnell, Akin, Nevada's Sharron Angle, Indiana's Richard Mourdock, and Colorado's Ken Buck, all of whom lost to weak but acceptable Democratic candidates. Capito's case is "already shaping up as a test case of whether Republicans can overcome deep fissures within the party and produce palatable general-election candidates," says Catanese.
Still, conservative purists note that establishment-backed Senate candidates have also lost elections in the past two years. And some Tea Party-backed candidates — such as Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — have not only won elections but made an impact on the national stage.
Either way, the brewing controversy over Capito is likely just a preview of an all-out GOP civil war that could get really ugly. Capito is not the only Republican who could face a primary challenge from the right in 2014: Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — and even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — are reportedly seen as vulnerable.