For old-school GOP, a hard lesson on fiscal issues

Posted on April 05, 2010

For years, establishment Republicans have urged the party's conservative wing to get over its obsession with social issues and focus on fiscal issues. Well, in 2010 they are getting their wish. The nation is experiencing a popular backlash against the expansion of government and runaway federal spending, and across the country fiscally conservative candidates are taking advantage of this popular groundswell -- in some cases to the detriment of establishment Republican candidates.

In Texas, for example, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison challenged Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary and started out with a commanding lead. But Perry successfully portrayed Hutchison as having become part of the Washington establishment -- dubbing her "Kay Bailout" and running an ad tagging her the "Earmark Queen" (to the tune of Abba's "Dancing Queen"). Hutchison responded by declaring that her success in bringing money home for Texas should be "celebrated and appreciated." Apparently, Texans are not in a celebratory or appreciative mood. She lost to Perry 51 percent to 30 percent. (Indeed, anti-Washington sentiment in Texas is so strong that a little-known, underfunded Tea Party candidate garnered 18 percent of the vote).

In Utah, 18-year incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett is similarly being portrayed as a symbol of all that is wrong with Washington. Bennett has drawn seven Republican primary challengers, and the ire of conservative activists such RedState's Erick Erickson and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth. The club has set up a Web site,, and launched ads and robocalls declaring that Bennett "voted to bail out Wall Street, voted for billions in wasteful spending like Alaska's 'Bridge to Nowhere,' and even joined with liberals supporting big government health care." (Bennett co-authored health-care legislation with liberal Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that the club calls "a trillion-dollar government takeover of health care that rivals Obamacare for being a massive big government proposal.")

In response, Bennett has touted his ability to bring home the bacon for his constituents. He recently told the New York Times that he decided to seek a fourth term because he was eager to become the senior Republican on the energy and water appropriations subcommittee -- a position he could use to help Utah. In normal times, this might have been a powerful campaign pitch. But these are not normal times, and such arguments make Bennett appear out of touch with the anti-Washington sentiment of Utah voters.

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