CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

National News

July 22, 2013

Voters shifting right force House GOP to keep pace

WASHINGTON —

House Republicans feel growing pressure to steer firmly right on key issues, thanks to changes in primary-election politics that are complicating Congress' ability to solve big problems.

Independent research supports the belief by these lawmakers that they owe their jobs to increasingly conservative activists, and that it's safer than ever to veer right on many subjects rather than seek compromise with Democrats.

On the flip side, House Democrats face a more liberal-leaning electorate in their own primary elections. But the trend is less dramatic for Democrats, whose supporters are more open to compromise to help government work, polls show. And Republican control of the House makes the GOP dynamic more consequential.

The House's recent struggles to handle once-routine tasks — such as passing a bipartisan farm bill and raising the federal debt limit — partly stem from the millions of Republican primary voters who elect representatives with stern warnings not to compromise with Democrats. It's also a reason that efforts to rewrite the nation's immigration laws face problems in the House, where Republicans quickly dismissed the Senate's bipartisan approach.

In interviews, House Republicans often cite worries about a possible challenge from the right in their next primary. Many of them represent districts so strongly Republican that it's all but impossible for the party's nominee to lose a general election to a Democrat. Also, these lawmakers say, it's highly unlikely that a moderate Republican can wrest the party's nomination from a conservative incumbent.

"There aren't a whole lot of moderate Republicans who participate in the primary in a conservative district," said Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas.

That leaves many House Republicans with only one prerequisite to assure their re-election: Never give a hard-charging conservative enough room on the right to mount a viable challenge in the primary.

In practice, the task doesn't seem so hard. Only six House Republicans lost their re-election primaries last year. Half of them fell to fellow incumbents in redrawn districts that forced two colleagues to oppose each other. The other three lost to challengers with strong tea party support.

Rep. Jean Schmidt's loss was instructive. A conservative by almost any measure, the three-term Ohioan was attacked nonetheless for voting to raise the federal debt ceiling and for giving President Barack Obama a peck on the cheek as he entered the House for his 2012 State of the Union address.

Memories of what happened to Schmidt — and to veteran Republican senators such as Bob Bennett and Richard Lugar, who also lost primaries to tea party-backed challengers — come up repeatedly in political discussions, House insiders say. GOP lawmakers regularly take the temperature of their districts' conservative activists, who are crucial in primary elections, which often draw modest turnouts.

"House members are better at reading their districts than anyone else," said Republican lobbyist and pollster Mike McKenna.

McKenna said it's not unusual to discuss immigration reform with House Republicans who say, "I'm getting emails from people who vote in primaries. They say 'I don't care what the Farm Bureau says, I hate this stuff.'"

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., tracks such emails and phone calls. He said his office recently received 80 calls about immigration, "and all of them were against the Senate bill."

The Senate bill would create a pathway to citizenship — or what many conservatives call "amnesty" — for millions of immigrants living here illegally. Fleming, asked whether he ever worries about going too far right for GOP primary voters in his district, said: "What's the chance of a moderate Republican coming in and saying, 'Oh, I'm for amnesty'?"

Marchant, the Texas congressman, said he's a lifelong conservative who has watched GOP primary voters in his west-Dallas district lean increasingly to the right. Tea partyers who once cast their votes for Libertarian Party candidates, he said, now are full-fledged Republicans.

"The mainstream Republicans, as a result, have become more conservative," Marchant said. Tea party activists, he said, "found that they could go into the Republican primary and make a real difference."

GOP Rep. Howard Coble, elected to 15 terms from central North Carolina, dates the change in primary voters' behavior to the mid-1990s. Conservative groups, he said, "were challenging Bob Dole for not being pure enough."

"That has opened the gates to primary races" against Republican incumbents, Coble said.

Voter surveys support the view that Republican voters are becoming more conservative.

On average, from 1976 through 1990, 47 percent of people who voted Republican in House races considered themselves conservative, according to exit polls. A slightly smaller share called themselves political moderates.

During Bill Clinton's presidency — which included bruising fights over health care, gun control, taxes and his impeachment — Republicans' conservatism began rising. From 1992 through 2006, GOP voters were 52 percent conservative on average and 41 percent moderate.

And in the most recent House elections, 2008 through 2012, more than 6 in 10 voters who backed a GOP candidate described themselves as conservative. About a third called themselves moderate.

Meanwhile, those who vote for House Democrats have become more liberal. But self-described liberals still comprise less than half of that group. In the pre-Clinton years, 25 percent considered themselves liberal; 33 percent on average did so from 1992 to 2006; and it stands at 40 percent across the last three elections.

Michael Dimock, who tracks such trends for the Pew Research Center, said that several years ago there was a notable difference between social conservatives and business conservatives in the Republican Party. Today, he said, Republican voters are more unified — and solidly conservative.

"The socially conservative right has adopted that anti-government, small-government principle, and it's largely consolidated," Dimock said.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, put a positive spin Sunday on what many see as congressional gridlock.

"We should not be judged by how many new laws we create," Boehner told CBS's "Face the Nation." ''We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal."

Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Fort Hood (UPDATED) Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

    A gunman opened fire Wednesday at Fort Hood in an attack that left four dead, including the shooter, law enforcement officials said.
    One of the officials, citing official internal U.S. Justice Department updates, said 14 others were hurt. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information by name.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • mfp file Hoffner Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

    The president of Minnesota State University-Mankato accused a football coach of looking at Internet porn on a work computer before firing him, an arbitrator has revealed. The official said the claim could not be supported, and the coach shouldn't have been fired.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • High School Stabbings 4 students seriously hurt in Pa. school stabbings

    A student armed with a knife went on a stabbing and slashing spree at a high school near Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning, leaving as many as 20 people injured, including four students who suffered serious wounds, authorities said.

    April 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • Obit Ultimate Warrior Former pro wrestler Ultimate Warrior dies at 54

    James Hellwig, better known as former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior, has died, the WWE said. He was 54.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_amazonfiretv.jpg Amazon introduces Fire TV to challenge Apple in living rooms

    Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is stepping up efforts to win over customers in their living rooms with a $99 TV box for watching digitally delivered shows and movies, challenging Apple's TV device.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Washington Mudslide Death toll in Washington mudslide rises to 30

    As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the 30 people known killed when a mudslide wiped out a small Washington community, one mystery troubles them.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Fort Hood Fort Hood gunman sought mental health treatment

    An Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness was the gunman who opened fire at Fort Hood, killing three people and wounding 16 others before committing suicide, in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were slain in 2009, authorities said.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court Campaign Big donors may give even more under court’s ruling

    The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday erasing a long-standing limit on campaign donations will allow a small number of very wealthy donors to give even more than is currently the case, according to students of the complex campaign finance system, and could strengthen the establishment in both parties.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
AP Video