For some members of the House of Representatives, there was more at stake on Wednesday night than the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Forget global catastrophe — some 2014 Senate hopefuls in the House had early poll numbers and primary challengers to worry about.
It’s hard to imagine that the upcoming Senate election wasn’t on the minds of these representatives as they cast their votes in favor or in protest of raising the debt ceiling. In red states with competitive Senate primary races, House members unsurprisingly pandered to the conservative wing of the party and voted against raising the debt ceiling. In states like West Virginia, where the Republican candidate faces only token opposition, the opposite happened.
Here’s how the aspiring senators voted in the House on Wednesday, and what this might mean for their individual quests to join Cory Booker in the U.S. Senate.
Yes: Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton
Arkansas Senate hopeful and current Republican congressman Tom Cotton voted to raise the debt ceiling (probably while holding his nose). Ironically, Cotton recently hurled an attack ad at current Arkansas senator Mark Pryor for voting yes when the Affordable Care Act was first passed through Congress.
To ensure his constituents his hand was forced and he did not fully support the bill that was passed, Cotton released the following statement on his website:
I supported legislation tonight to prevent Barack Obama from risking a default on our national debt and to open parts of the government that were temporarily shut down. This bill is far from perfect, but it preserves annual spending caps and allows for more negotiation to stop Washington’s out-of-control spending. Senate Democrats have fought hard for more spending and to protect Obamacare at all costs. They even voted to keep Congress’s special Obamacare exemption rather than keeping the government open. I’ll use the time provided by this bill to keep fighting for Arkansas taxpayers who also want to be protected from Obamacare, as well as real spending reforms.
Just a few months ago, polls showed Cotton with a 2 point lead over Pryor in the Senate race. Now, after the shutdown and Republican popularity at all-time lows, the Huffington Post finds Pryor with a 2 point edge over Cotton.
No: Georgia Republicans Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Tom Price and Jack Kingston
The Georgia primary race leading up to the 2014 Senate election may well be a race to show who is more conservative than Sarah Palin. Paul Broun, the primary race frontrunner, is running on a platform that aligns him with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. And Georgia Republican primary voters can’t get enough, according to Politico, who reports that Broun fired up a conservative audience in the Atlanta suburbs with this call to arms:
“The establishment don’t want me to go to the U.S. Senate. The reason for that is because when I go to the U.S. Senate, it will be Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Paul Broun. The establishment don’t want that.”
Broun, who is a doctor, also famously said evolution and the big bang theory are lies “straight from the pit of hell.”
In the race to get the most votes among conservative Georgia primary voters, Broun’s challengers have mirrored his staunch conservatism. All three current House members who are running against Broun for the open Senate seat voted against raising the debt ceiling. Showing how far right they are with their votes has paid off. Polls show a tight race: 19 percent of primary voters back Braun, 18 percent support Gingrey, 17 percent back Price, and 13 percent will vote for Kingston.
No: Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy
In a questionable career move, Republican Louisiana congressman Bill Cassidy voted with 60 percent of his colleagues to not raise the debt limit. This may complicate his Senate race.
As of now, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu leads Cassidy 48 percent to 41 percent, according to Public Policy Polling. What’s more damning for Cassidy is that Louisiana voters opposed the government shutdown 60 percent to 30 percent, and 47 percent are now less likely to vote for Cassidy because of his support of it.
PPP director Tom Jensen put Cassidy’s decision to support the government shutdown and oppose raising the debt ceiling in perspective: “The shutdown will be particularly problematic for the GOP if it nominates one of the House members seeking a promotion to the Senate,” said Jensen.
Yes: West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito
Representative Capito is ahead in the West Virginia Senate race, and it appears she wasn’t prepared to play with fire by voting to not raise the debt limit.
Nevertheless, Democratic candidate and current West Virginia Secretary of State, Natalie Tennant, attacked Capito soon after the government shutdown, accusing her and House Republicans of pandering to special interests, not constituents.
Tennant’s campaign sent out an email to supporters strongly criticizing Capito and the House Republicans.
“Congresswoman Capito’s responsible for the men and women of the National Guard who have been sent home from the bases in Martinsburg and Charleston, the furloughed inspectors who can’t investigate a toxic chemical leak in South Charleston, the federal mine inspectors who can’t ensure the health and safety of our coal miners and the small businesses hurt by the closing of our national parks,” Tennant wrote in the email. “She’s been with her party and the special interests 100%. She’s forgotten the people who elected her.”
It was probably a smart political move by Capito to not cast the unpopular “no” vote, especially in a race that is hers to lose.
Yes: Montana Republican Steve Daines
Like his West Virginia counterpart, Republican representative Steve Daines wasn’t prepared to follow the majority of his House Republican colleagues and vote for default. Daines will likely be the Republican nominee in the race to replace Democratic incumbent Senator Max Baucus, who is retiring after this year.
Daines has the backing of top Republican Senate leaders — like Mitch McConnell — who would like to see Republicans pick up a Senate seat in the traditionally red state. But Daines, if he declares he is running for the Senate, faces a strong moderate Democratic opponent in the race, Lt. Governor John Walsh.
Walsh is the former commander of the Montana National Guard who never sought public office until the Montana attorney general, Steve Bullock, tapped him as a running mate. Democrats want to run Walsh as a Washington outsider, while tying Daines to a typical Washington politician, according to Politico.
The debt ceiling debacle is now something Daines’ Democratic opponent cannot hold against him.