It's been an explosive year for Republicans in the Senate where lawmakers joined Democrats to pass a budget and immigration reform. For some conservatives in the Senate, the votes they took in 2013 were carefully calculated as they looked over their shoulder at primary challengers and toward 2014 where they won't just be racing against Democrats, but against candidates from their own team.
As the new year beckons, these are the top primary races to watch:
It's the Wild West contest political pundits in the Cowboy State still have a tough time wrapping their heads around. Since Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, announced she would run against incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, the state's party has been split in two, political allies are at odds and the state is being flooded with ads. Unlike primaries of the past where tea party challengers compete against a moderate Republican to steal the Senate seat, Enzi is no GOP squish. He holds an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and a 93 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. Cheney hasstructured her campaign around the premise that she can be more conservative, but so far poll numbers indicate she is lagging far behind. A poll found that Enzi led Cheney 69 percent to 17 percent in October.
Enzi might be leading in the polls, but that doesn't mean the race will be a clear victory for the sitting senator. Cheney has signaled a willingness to lean on some of the Republican Party's biggest donors and savviest strategists. In a state with an inexpensive media market and just a little more than 570,000 people, the winner won't be the one with the biggest war chest. The victor will be the one who shakes the most hands and can prove the deepest roots in the state.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, isn't too worried about primary challenger Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, but that doesn't mean the race won't make for an engrossing matchup in 2014.
Stockman is a tea party firebrand. He's a guy who stunned strategists in December when he filed his paperwork just before the end of the filing deadline in the Lone Star state. Stockman hasn't been a low-profile member of the House of Representatives. He's attracted headlines for inviting anti-Obama rock star Ted Nugent to attend the State of the Union in 2013 and announcing that "if babies had guns they wouldn't be aborted."
But while Stockman mobilizes social conservatives at the polls, he's been unable to mobilize the conservative super PAC support that has proven critical in the past for tea party insurgents like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Stockman will need them to jump into the race if he expects to raise more than Cornyn who already has $7 million compared to Stockman's $32,000.
Conservative groups with deep pockets like Club for Growth are staying on the sidelines for the March primary. And despite Stockman's insistence that he cleans his guns with "liberal tears," the National Rifle Association endorsed Cornyn for the Senate.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is fighting for his Senate seat from all sides. But before he can get to the general election against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell will have to defeat Matt Bevin, a conservative businessman who has the backing of the key conservative fundraising group the Senate Conservative Fund. In his leadership role, McConnell has sometimes found himself at the center of compromises with the Obama administration like the deal he hammered out with Vice President Joe Biden to keep the country from falling off the fiscal cliff in 2013. Already, Kentucky's airwaves are full of ads holding his negotiations with the administration against him. While many in the state believe McConnell will prevail, the race is a headache for McConnell's campaign as it gears up for the competitive race against Grimes. A Public Policy Polling survey found that McConnell led Bevin 53 percent to 26 percent in December.